Tuesday, 24 December 2013 

It’s only the first two weeks of sitting in the house with years to come but the Abbott government has made a strong start.

Dennis Shanahan 22 November 2013

The Prime Minister is now faced with the reality of growing disillusion from the electorate that goes well beyond the carbon tax.

Dennis Shanahan three weeks later

Of course, the importance of the last Newspoll was not the poll itself, it merely confirmed the downward drift in government support a little later than others. The importance of the poll was that The Australian, and especially its political editor, had to explain it. Only three weeks after claiming that the Coalition frontbench was using every crisis to grow in confidence – which given that the Coalition had a large part in causing them, suggested a quite unique winning formula – Shanahan now claimed that the poll slip showed the public becoming increasingly disillusioned.

It’s hard to see why. After all, it’s not as though expectations were high to begin with. Probably more striking than the public’s unenthusiastic welcome to the new government was its unenthusiastic anticipation before it had even arrived. Polls in the run up to the September election showed that not only was the Liberals’ leader unpopular, but so were most of its policies. Labor’s positions on the NBN, public services, Gonski, industry support were more popular. There was a majority for abolishing the carbon tax (not a huge one) yet overwhelming support for doing something about climate change that was certainly not the Coalition’s Direct Action plan.

While the Coalition was seen as being better on asylum seekers, the majority generally thought nothing could be done and did not rank it as a priority. The Coalition was seen as better handlers of the economy but voters nevertheless expected to personally worse off under the Coalition, believing business would do better. The PPL, the Coalition’s flagship policy, was a stinker. And to cap off unpopular policies was the least popular leader heading for an election victory since polling began. The most bizarre example of the public’s mixed attitude to the imminent change in government was a marginal seat poll in March that showed voters wanting Labor to win in inverse relation to actually voting for it.

The issue here, of course, was not the Coalition but the unpopularity of Labor, especially under Gillard. It was why, despite all the warnings of the dangers of unity, when the Prime Minister was toppled and half the Ministry walked out three quarters of a million voters switched from the Coalition to Labor – then mostly switched back again when the changeover ended up looking like more of the same.

This is truly a government by default. New governments usually enjoy a honeymoon when the shift in political mood is crystallised into governing reality. In this case there was no shift in political mood to the Coalition, just a turn off from Labor and so this government has enjoyed no popular support to ride on the back of.

This is all means a hard landing onto reality for the right. It was especially tough for The Australian, since their poll, the one they own and understand, was alone in showing some sort of honeymoon, even if a weak one. The result was an early talking up of the Abbott government and the claiming of a mandate in its own right when none really existed. Hence, the idea that voters had become “disillusioned” of the government’s performance since the election when in reality voters’ attitude was as ambivalent as before.

But if the right have talked up the problems of the first few months in order to change the narrative, they are not alone. The left has also made much of the first few months of the new government explaining the lack of the honeymoon with the implicit vindication that Labor was right all along. This is partly a product of talking up the political powers of Abbott before the election as a way of avoiding looking straight into the Labor mess. But it also is a way of trying to rehabilitate Labor and “move on” from the Gillard-Rudd feud after the election.

It is true it has been an awkward few months. But it’s been better than Howard’s start in 1996 that saw him lose Ministers and his Chief of Staff to scandals, and annoy Asian neighbours from the start. While Howard was helped by his reaction to the Port Arthur massacre a month after he came in, it was not till late 1997 than the honeymoon wore off.

At the time, Labor instinctively recognised that the 1996 election represented a sea change in both its own project, as the political representative of the union leadership, and the electorate’s verdict of it. It kicked off a bout of internal party wrangles between those who wanted to keep Labor’s trade union roots as the basis of what the party was about, and those who saw little chance of returning to power while it was wedded to a now irrelevant past. It produced the oscillations in leadership between the “reformers” and the old guard that culminated in the final gory end in the Rudd-Gillard years.

But the exit of Rudd and Gillard does not mean that issue has been resolved. The “unity” the party is now enjoying comes not from the resolution of that dilemma but the absence of any way out that produced its one election victory in 2007.

In fact in many ways, Labor is in a worse state than it was in 1996. It still has the baggage of union leadership that means even less in Australian society than it did in 1996, plus the added taint of scandal, but on top of that it now has the record of chaotic government that Beazley/Crean/Latham never had to carry. Even if the Abbott government drifts along on its mediocre way as it does now, it still has union ties to play with the former AWU leader, as Howard could with Crean, and the “Memory ads” have already been made.

Labor has one hope, however. The right talking up of Abbott comes from a wish in their heads to see a right mandate being vindicated. If Labor had its contortions over what its role still means, so do the Liberals but, as Australia’s last political party, will take a more ideological form. Abbott’s biggest threat comes not from Labor but from those backers behind him who are the real “disillusioned”. The problem he has is that there is no social basis for carrying out a classic right agenda (nor a social need) but backers must be placated.

The only thing Abbott can do are token gestures to please the right, such as appointing libertarian non-entities to toothless bodies like the Human Rights Commission. Such token actions should not be enough; fortunately Abbott has the left to make a big deal of such “culture wars” manoeuvres as though something of significance has happened. If the left’s last hope is disruption from the Liberal right, so Abbott is helped by the phoney polarities of the left. The pas de deux continues.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 24 December 2013.

Filed under State of the parties, Tactics

Tags: , ,


25 responses to “Disillusionment”

  1. Dianne on 25th December 2013 5:00 pm

    Thanks Piping for saddling up on Christmas Eve.

    You have identified some of the peculiarities of the electorate’s relationship with whomever is in power.

    I don’t think people have the same tribal loyalties as before and are sceptical of any Government.

    Someone wrote a piece a couple of days ago saying as much and that the Opposition leader is the beneficiary .

    Could be.

    I still think this country was distrustful of a female leader and that was the major reason why the ALP lost support. It picked up again when Rudd returned and then people realized why th

  2. Dianne on 25th December 2013 5:06 pm

    That went off before I was finished.


    People realized why they had grown tired of Kevin.

    It still does not explain why people voted for a man they did not like. A man who led a party whose were not widely supported by the electorate.

    There is a real puzzle to be solved.

  3. atomou on 26th December 2013 9:08 am

    Dianne (et al) hi and I hope these last few days haven’t been too onerous for body and soul and, moreover, they haven’t rendered you all too debilitated to face up to yet another over-exuberant explosion of cheer as we try and deal with the notion that we are yet a year older! 2014! Who would have thunk it back in’45!

    Back to our only Fem. PM, whom, I think I rightly call femme fatale. “Rightly,” because of the way she came into the leadership and rightly because of the way she lead. Speaking for myself, I was extremely excited when I saw her as no2. I thought that there, indeed, was a great PM, should Rudd fall over a cliff and I might well have harboured the view that she would make a better one than Rudd.
    Whatever the reasoning (and I suggest there is never a reasoning going on before an assassination but a simple, pragmatic, self-serving conspiracy) behind tossing Rudd out, she should have tried -and showed to have done so- to have resisted that coup. She had joined the Brutuses and Casiuses and Cascases, instead of trying to persuade them to desist; and the reason, I suggest she did that, is because they have offered her usurpership. A cynical suggestion perhaps but it’s a palpable and a conspicuous one in my view, observed by anyone who wants to look in that direction.

    Such coups are a field where only discord and divisiveness can grow and so we have reaped the harvest.

    The fact that she is a woman, I believe is of such a little consequence that it has become an abstraction and a portmanteau to toss in every flimsy excuse for Labor losing the election. In the end, it’s not who leads but what he does to please the fat end of town. Clearly, she had promised to do that –in many ways, in contrast to Rudd who sort of, kind of, thought of, maybe do the opposite and so the Brutus cohort was called in to effect her rise. I also don’t underestimate the power of the jewish lobby who were utterly angry at Rudd and effusive about Gillard’s sycophancy. That, I think, played a much larger role in her rise than did her sex in her fall.

    The other part of the double whammy that Labor was hit with, was her own style as a leader and the ways she had managed, or mismanaged many issues, too many now to list and, in any case, they would be obvious to bother with, to anyone who is sitting on my side of the fence. What issues Gillard paid attention to and to what she didn’t tells one that this PM was not a PM for the True Believers but for the status quo of unfettered commercial exploitation and cleptocracy. It was no surprise then that the people thought that the ALP should be punished, even if it meant that, in the process, they, too, would be punished.

    And I think it will be a long time before many of those True Believers and others, will return to that tribe. The people who are now uttering the words that the ALP should be uttering are the Greens and, would that the media eases its relentless attack on them, they will be the next major party.

    What the voters will do come next election, having experienced the depths of horror that this egregiously nasty govn’t has wrought upon them, is anybody’s guess but my horrible feeling is that they will be so split at heart and soul that Abbott and his devils will rise again.

    Let us hope not but let us not be surprised if it happens and, more importantly, let us not sleep on a pillow full of the down of delusion: It’s not the gender that the people care about.

  4. Gordon on 26th December 2013 9:16 am

    “Even if the Abbott government drifts along on its mediocre way as it does now, it still has union ties to play with the former AWU leader, as Howard could with Crean, and the “Memory ads” have already been made”

    If Hockey or Turnbull were the leader, I’d agree with this point.

    Abbott by contrast is not going to touch issues relating to IR and unions because it would upset the delicate and inconsistent electoral balancing act he has going culturally with parts of the Coalition’s conservative base. This has already been somewhat disrupted by the way the Holden decision was handled.

    As for the “memory ads”, by the time the next election comes along, I doubt anyone will really care except the already converted.

  5. Dianne on 26th December 2013 3:31 pm

    Hi Atomou – I persist in believing that gender had a lot to do with how Gillard was perceived.

    I don’t put it down to the patriarchy thing. It seems a lot of women did not feel comfortable with her leadership either.

    I think men and women would feel a lot easier with a female leader like Tanya P who is also a wife and mother, than with a woman who chose not to perform the trad roles.

    There is a very interesting study to be made. I am sure someone will. jG may have a few insights of her own to offer.

    Btw I like the sound of that pillow.

  6. Dianne on 26th December 2013 3:33 pm

    Both sides can make ‘memory’ ads.

  7. atomou on 26th December 2013 4:50 pm

    Dianne, so it’s not the gender but the reculcitrancy against trad roles? And you’re insinuating that this is a greater sin when done by a woman than when done by a man? In other words, you’re suggesting that, a man may subvert trad roles but not a woman?
    And you’re also suggesting that it is just these two trad roles, marriage and parenthood that make or break a woman’s public perception and that it is only this that Plibs has over Gillard?

    Dianne, that pillow is about to spawn some nightmares for you.

    I can’t read other people’s minds but my view is that Plibs is a far superior human being, in both, intellect, political leanings and heart. The marriage/parenthood bit is out my antenna’s reach.

    I don’t know how hard it is to manage those CIA plants who run the party but I think, Plibs would do a far better job of it. She has a stronger, more virtuous conscience and a mightier moral point from which to work.

  8. Dianne on 26th December 2013 5:43 pm

    Indeed I believe it is more difficult for a single woman in politics. Family is extremely important for a politician’s image.

    But I have said all this before here.

  9. Dianne on 26th December 2013 6:00 pm

    Mulling over ….

    Actually I think it would be a handicap for a male politician not to be married and pref with children’s.

    Why else do they wheel them out all the time.

  10. Dianne on 26th December 2013 6:01 pm

    With children

  11. atomou on 26th December 2013 6:23 pm

    Why do they “wheel them out?”
    Because in their minds, and in the minds of their focus groups, such things mater more than policies. They matter only for as long as the propaganda, the ad on the telly lasts. A minute after that, it’s all about stuff ups and bad polls and who whinges the loudest.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 26th December 2013 7:55 pm

    When did people work out that Gillard was a woman not in a married relationship? It can’t have been at the start of her Prime Ministership in 2010 because she started quite popular, at least more than any of the married men on the scene.

    If you look at the polling her slide in popularity came about because of what she actually did or said. Being a woman a lot of the attacks on her then came in a nasty sexist form. This has then been turned into the reason so we can forget what she actually did or said.

  13. F on 26th December 2013 11:22 pm

    Thank you shrike for pointing out the bleeding obvious. Dianne you seem very willing to ignore or discount the awful way in which Gillard gained the leadership, and the awful decisions she made as leader.

    At the very least give Gillard the credit for her own demise.

  14. Graeme on 27th December 2013 5:52 am

    ‘Look at the scary old unionists’ ads did the Coalition a fat lot of good in 2007. With unions weak today, a leadership drawn in significant part from their ranks is not a threat, more a curiosity whose chief risk is a shallower gene pool.(Although for every hack who flops, there is a competent policy person or mediator like Combet or Mar’n.)

    Why will a ‘Bill of the AWU’ pitch fare any better? Like Gillard he started with a popular perception (around the time of Beaconsfield and, in an ongoing way, in the disability community). Surely like Gillard he will be judged by what he says and does – publicly, not in the back rooms.

    On present indications that be ‘not much’.
    Now that leaves a vacuum in perception of Shorten, which others may to fill. But with labels like ‘electricity Bill’, lame as they are, rather than ‘AWU Bill’.

  15. The Piping Shrike on 27th December 2013 6:38 am

    A couple of things. Actually I think the Liberals’ anti union ads did help in 2007 because the Liberals were heading for a wipe-out and such ads helped to secure the base (even if no one else). Recall that Howard managed one of the biggest swings during a campaign towards it in 2007 and “saved the furniture”.

    Secondly I’m not suggesting the Liberals will do it again (unless heading for a similar wipe-out, which is unlikely). But Labor’s union ties are a useful tool to play with their heads directly in Parliament, as Howard did, especially if party reform becomes contentious.

    Finally I do think, however, that Labor’s record in government just passed can be used against them, especially as they so thoroughly stuffed up the economic debate (when they had good grounds for not doing so).

  16. Dianne on 27th December 2013 7:02 am

    I should make it more clear that I have come to accept the view that a visible family is of major importance to anyone, male or female, who want to lead this country.

    Julia Gillard could never have been treated in such a sexist manner if she had been a wife and mother. I do not believe TA would have ever appeared before signs calling her a Witch and a Bitch if she were.

    As we all know well here, TA’s campaign companions were two of his attractive daughters. When he needed digging out of a hole after the David Marr report about the wall punching incident who did they call? Margie.

    All I am saying here is that JG, who I think was a much better PM than many of you would have, was hamstrung by not having a trad family to trot out. She became a more vulnerable target for some pretty vile gender-specific attacks.

    It is all common-sense to me but perhaps not to you.

    And Piping, I don’t think this was your intention but you are effectively saying that JG was responsible for all those sexist attacks because of her own behaviour.

    I prefer my thesis. That her unmarried, childless state (remember the symbolism of the empty fruit bowl) enabled those sexist attacks to be made.

    If I remember correctly Mark Latham made the first comment on JG’s childlessness. Around the same time that prominent rural MP, Bill someone, said she was ‘deliberately barren’.

  17. Dianne on 27th December 2013 7:04 am

    Bill Heffernan

  18. The Piping Shrike on 27th December 2013 7:25 am

    Obviously she was not responsible for the nasty nature of the attacks on her. But why do you never mention the things she did that lost her popularity, and just focus on her gender? Was she responsible for nothing else either, or just a victim?

  19. Dianne on 27th December 2013 9:57 am

    Of course she made mistakes. Which leader does not, particularly in first term?

    I think the ferocity of those attacks was something else.

    Destabilisation from within did not help and TA’s particular brand of belligerence was v effective.

    I don’t think this country is misogynist. People liked Gillard at first.

    But the gender-specific attacks king hit her. Harpy, shrew, red-headed she-devil, witch, bitch etc. I simply do not believe insults of that nature would be made against a woman with children.

    Gillard was easy game. Even the other day I saw a remark written somewhere that the house she has just sold in Altona could continue to be run as a whorehouse.

    Something very nasty took place with the attacks on JG.

  20. F on 27th December 2013 10:40 am

    Are you kidding me? Dianne I think you overlook the nasty nature of politics, and just how personal attacks can come.

    Taunting a male politician as a “mincing poodle”?(that is one of the top searchable’s on google connected with Pyne,that is incredibly homophobic)

    Or a “mad monk” “oafish” “churchy” “fat” “sexist pig” “misogynist” “bastard”

    Constantly impugning someone’s religion, even when its completely unrelated and unnecessary.

    Would you consider these as signs of ‘misandry’?

  21. Dianne on 27th December 2013 11:39 am

    Personal attacks have always been there I agree. But there is a nastier edge. Personality rather than policy is of greater interest to some sections of the media.

    I have already said that if the positions had been reversed, T A would have been targetted in such a manner. Single man, religious background, a bit of a personal history. He would have had a harder time if it had not been for Margie and the girls.

    What happened to JG made me sit up and take notice.

    TA is having a very rough ride at the moment. He has broken more promises than JG ever did but criticism has not reached that extremely nasty level. It may do of course.

    I think something fundamental is happening to how we participate in politics. Waleed Aly has written today that one-term Govts may be the new norm. Some academic wrote a piece at the weeken which claimed that Opposition leaders are now in the box seat.

    Character assassination seems to be a political strategy these days and the media delight in it.

  22. atomou on 28th December 2013 8:41 am

    “Character assassination seems to be a political strategy these days and the media delight in it.”

    So, we forget about all the zealous advocacy you’ve conducted on the “Julia, (the unmarried, non-mother) vs The World” matter, then, Dianne, shall we?

    It IS a political strategy and it is also the way the cookie crumbles. In sporting arenas as well as in Politics. They don’t shout out “Black bastard!” because they are racists but because that’s one thing the shouter thinks will hurt the black player more than the others and that’s also about as far as their infinitesimal IQ will take them. It is a racist remark but it is one made in a special context. The people who barrack for the black’s team certainly do not think he’s a bastard and the fact that he’s black, is irrelevant.
    They are nasty remarks made generally by those who are capable of thinking any better and are easily dragged into the whirling tempest of mass hysteria.

    And, I must say, that TA’s IQ has been shown to be of the lowest order. He is dumb. He is inarticulate and because of that he is also uncontrollably aggressive. And he is aided and abetted by a whole lot of others of similarly wretched characteristics.
    It wouldn’t have mattered a pinch of poo, if Julia was married, or divorced, with a dozen children or with none, a transvestite or a lesbian. The insults would come in the same profusion and with the same pathology. The character assassination would be equally evident. It is, as you say, a political strategy.

  23. guy on 29th December 2013 12:44 pm

    Let’s settle the Gillard seismic issue once and for all. Her failure and subsequent defenestration was 50% due to being a backstabber, 30% due to poor decisions in office and 20% due to being a “wilfully barren” spinster.

  24. atomou on 29th December 2013 3:30 pm

    guy, I’m not sure of the accuracy of your apportioning but if I were to quibble at all it’d be with the last two percentages. More like 40% due to poor decisions and 10% to being willfully barren… but I argue about that last bit with many.

  25. Dianne on 29th December 2013 4:53 pm

    20% and 10%

    Well that is a start!

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