Endemic ennui enervates election exegesis

I still can’t get motivated to write anything analytical about politics, despite the federal election campaign entering its fair dinkum phase. I tried to generate some political coverage on Troppo by emailing Scott Wickstein to see whether he intended making good on an earlier idle promise to post his pre-election thoughts. Wisely perhaps, Scott completely ignored my entreaty.

Fortunately, other bloggers are already in harness and churning out election coverage by the bucketful. Tim Dunlop and Christopher Sheil have both been quick off the mark, while Graham Freeman muses about the approach he might take when he eventually gets around to writing about the election!

Alan from Southerly Buster muses about the ramifications of a renewed Senate committee investigation into “children overboard” in light of Scrafton et al. The interesting aspect of that situation, from a long-term democratic accountability viewpoint, is that Labor seems finally to have abandoned its expedient resistance to subpoenaing ministerial staffers to give evidence. We can expect that the Coalition in opposition would return the favour, so it looks like this major impediment to the ability of the Senate to oversee actions of the executive government has finally been removed.

The right of the blogosphere has mostly been very reticent so far, perhaps reflecting their pessimism about the situation in light of current opinion polls. Tim Blair has managed a desultory Australian election post amidst an avalanche of American-oriented material. Tim attempts to ameliorate his evident discomfort at the prospect of a Labor victory by professing unconvincingly that he’d be “ecstatic” if Latham won “simply for the entertainment it could provide“. You can almost hear the grinding and gnashing of teeth.

The only right winger I found on a quick whiparound who’s produced anything substantive to date is Graham Young at Ambit Gambit, who has written an incisive post that puts the Tory case rather better than anything else I’ve read lately:

Labor will run a very nasty campaign based on the accusation that John Howard is the most dishonest leader the country has ever had. It won’t be primarily run by the leader but through direct mail, talk-back radio, and, increasingly, the Internet. It will focus on the word “truth”.

The Liberals will run a very nasty campaign based on vilification of Latham and memories of Keating. It will be run by the leader using earned media, as well as through direct mail and talk-back radio, but not so much the ‘net. The Liberal campaign will focus on the word “trust”. …

“Truth” focusses on words, while “trust” on actions. For the government this election will be a compare and contrast between what Labor says about itself and Howard – and what Labor does. Latham will be portrayed as all fancy talk and incompetent action. “Trust” is the word that pivots the debate around to concentrate on performance rather than promise.

Labor puts itself in a weak position by relying on “truth”. Not only does it lay itself open to charges of hypocrisy (as does any politician who charges their opponent with lying), but by concentrating on what Howard says, it cuts itself out of the language that discusses performance and consequence.

“Trust” also comes with a hint of threat. Someone I must rely on lying to me does not prima facie present a threat as long as in the end I can rely on them to do the right thing by me. The Liberal Campaign will be a “don’t risk it” campaign. By stressing truthfulness Labor doesn’t help its cause. Electors may well say “What if Howard lies, at least he gets the right results. Why should I risk it with this other crowd who are obsessed with a 3 year old event like Children overboard?” …

Graham Young asserts that Labor’s “truth” (Howard is a liar) campaign is pitched at the “elites”, and argues that this message doesn’t resonate with the ordinary punters. My gut feeling is that he’s wrong, although I have to confess I don’t hang around pubs or talk to taxi drivers, or bore dinner guests to death by quizzing them (which seems to be Graham’s favoured method). The extent to which the “Howard is a lying turd” message resonates with the disengaged 30% of the electorate who are “swinging” voters will obviously be crucial to the outcome. No doubt both parties’ private polling and focus groups are trying to gauge that very thing as we speak.

If “Howard is a lying turd” doesn’t fly with the punters whose votes matter, then this election is going to be so close as to be next to impossible to pick. Latham starts with a clear opinion poll lead, and with voters weary of Howard and his generally stodgy, tired and uninspiring government. On the other hand, Latham is new and untested, with an edge of potentially volatile instability that makes even people like me a little uneasy. Moreover, the economy remains strong, and Howard is probably still seen as the steadier hand on national security and foreign affairs. But the cards might yet be thrown in the air on foreign affairs and security depending on what happens in Iraq over the next 6 weeks.

What really inhibits me from making any clear prediction is that the published opinion polls don’t tell us anything meaningful about the strength of measured voting intentions. Newspoll et al have been showing a clear Labor lead for several weeks now. But are they measuring swinging voters who’ve really turned their minds to the decision and made up their minds (as I certainly have), or just immediate shallow reactions to a few bad weeks for Howard, which may well be reversed as Latham is forced to reveal his tax and expenditure cuts policies? I strongly suspect that most of my fellow swingers haven’t made up their minds yet, and probably haven’t even started seriously thinking about the election in most cases. They may well swing back the other way if Howard campaigns strongly and Latham fails to reproduce his “phony war” mastery now the real campaign has begun.

See! I managed to fight off ennui and squeeze out an analysis of sorts after all.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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mark
2022 years ago

Good post; pity about the title. Ack! My brain!

susoz
2022 years ago

What will probably happen in Iraq in the next six weeks is that the 1000th US soldier to die, will die. But that could well get short shrift in the Australian media.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I wonder if Tim Blair appreciates the irony of his current expat status. Immersed as he is in the exitement currently occuring in the centre of the universe, he occaisionly treats us here on the periphery to a little bit of his glib wisdom.

He is becoming like Germaine Greer.

TimT
2022 years ago

Tim Blair first posted his ‘Latham as PM… will be quite entertaining’ quote a few months back. I think he even mentioned at the time that he had a bet riding on just that, a Latham win. So I don’t think his reusing of the quote now is evidence of some bitterness at the current state of the polls.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

This RWDB is depressed. The polls look awful. I don’t think a Lib campaign based on “Don’t risk it” will go anywhere. Apart from attrocious industrial relations policies no-one really thinks an ALP government will completely stuff the economy. ALP right wing capitalist credentials are pretty solid. I think we will even muddle along with the US alliance. No the thing that depresses me about an ALP government is that they all just give me the screaming shits. And five seconds on Back Pages will tell you the feeling is mutual, and then some. They have had a nasty 8 years, poor things, and maybe we must give them respite. Not because they deserve it but because we can.

No I don’t think any of the aforesaid coalition tactics will work. The People think that as long as Latham doesn’t go nutty then he’ll go OK so don’t bother about youth or experience angle. Two tactics that I think will work is bypassing attacks on Latham and going for his team. The more coverage Julia gets the more votes for the Coalition. She looks like one of those neurotic thin lipped left wing pains – Glenda Jackson, Judy Davis, Margot Kingston sort of thing happening that really pisses people off. I have been pleasantly surprised when mixing with the Great Unwashed, ie my family and friends and how much people HATE Rudd, really can’t stand him. They don’t mind Dolly so much believe it or not.

I also think that a nice dose of union bashing will help get Howard over the line. Really push how thuggish seventies shop stewards from Glasgow will be really running the show, that kind of thing.

Apart from these straws we are pretty much stuffed. We may fall over the line but and ALP landslide is just as possible.

thersites
thersites
2022 years ago

From todays SMH:

“There are levies and there are taxes and I think economists have got clearly defined definitions about the two and I think that’s all established in economic theory and practice,” Mr Latham said.

When further pushed he responded: “Well, you need to go to your economic textbooks and look at those points.”

Doesnt “honest mark” latham have a degree in economics ??? Even if it was from a university deficient in that discipline ….

Latham had been a rare admirable individual in the mafia like labour machine …. wow and now its possibly the worlds first truthful mafia dedicated to good causes or is that way too RWBD?

Latham used to be one of the people I admired a few short years ago ….. now im not so sure ….. lets all hope he’s a massive liar too and abandons substantial ALP corrupt suckhole policy such as IR if elected and returns to his true beliefs !!

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I will have something together for TA readers to get upset-enraged-amused about tomorrow or Wednesday.

Niall
Niall
2022 years ago

To be honest, I’m bored with it all and it’s only the end of Day 1. Jeezus! Another 40 to go! Can we just fast-fwd to October 9?

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Let me frame the election for you like this.

Option 1: Howard wins, steps down in favour of Costello.
Option 2: Latham wins, hamstrung by unions, labor left, and the *Greens*.

Did I mention the Greens? How they’re not the Democrats? How they like to spoil the party if their tune isn’t played?

Or, to put it in the US vernacular, a vote for Latham is a vote for Bob Brown.

Mark Upcher
Mark Upcher
2022 years ago

Why should Labor be any more hamstrung by the Greens than the Coalition? Assuming that the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate after the election, in those cases where there is not bi-partisan support either governing party would require Green support. The only difference is that in those cases where Labor is closer to the Greens on an issue there may be more chance of a compromise.

I do not remember Hawke and Keating being particularly hamstrung by the labor left when they pushed the economic reforms of the 1980s.

However, I do agree that Latham may not be as adept as Hawke was (at least in his first two terms)in handling those groups.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Thanks Mark. You make exactly the points I had in mind when I read Jacques’ comment last night (but couldn’t be bothered answering at the time). I’m not sure whether Jacques is being deliberately disingenuous or is just too young to have a clear personal recollection of the fact that the Hawke and Keating governments were in just about every respect the epitome of solid neoliberal conservatism. In terms of economic management, Howard has really just continued their policy directions.

Latham is every bit as economically conservative and neoliberal as Keating, though with an overlay of trendy but essentially meaningless communitarian wankery (reading to children etc).

Of course, that won’t stop Howard’s spin doctors from trying to conjure up a picture of Labor as mad socialist “tax and spenders” who can’t be trusted, in the hope that some may believe it (“The Liberals will run a very nasty campaign based on vilification of Latham and memories of Keating.”. I imagine they’ll try to revive memories of the high interest rates of 1990-91 and the “recession we had to have”. But those were a direct consequence of the neoliberal deregulatory policies that Keating implemented. The Reserve Bank kept monetary policy too loose in the wake of the 1988 wordlwide stockmarket crash (fearing a recession or depression if they didn’t), and then tightened it too quickly and severely when it realised that the economy was overheating dangerously. The result was excessively high interest rates and a deep recesssion we wouldn’t have needed to have if they had been more skilled. But their overreactions were a result of understandable inexperience in managing the economy with the very limited range of tools available in the wake of Keating’s deregulation. The Reserve Bank has learned a lot since then, and Latham will continue the policy (introduced by Keating) of having it manage policy independently of government, with an overriding aim of keeping inflation within a designated band (3% or thereabouts).

Latham has also promised to keep fiscal settings tight, with total tax and spending as a proportion of GDP remaining the same or falling. That is significantly tighter than Howard has managed to achieve, underlining the fact that Latham’s economic viewpoint is at least as conservative as Howard. Personally, I think he embraces neoliberal orthodoxy to an excessive extent. But painting him as a “tax and spend” socialist is just laughable. I don’t blame Howard’s spin doctors for giving it a lash; after all they’re desperate, and some voters may be economically and historically illiterate enough to swallow it. But I’d expect a bit better from those who aspire to serious (i.e. sincere) policy discussion in the blogosphere. And that goes for Al Bundy, who’s also happily running the new Howard propaganda line, as much as Jacques.

That isn’t to say that there are no legitimate worries at all about Latham from the viewpoint of principled conservatives. He may conceivably turn out to be excessively flaky and volatile, and only kept under control at the moment through the close attentions of minders and liberal doses of Mogadon and Zoloft. And it’s conceivable that he’ll be less adept than Hawke proved to be at deflecting the demands of the trade union movement for reregulation of the labour market. I’m a bit worried about both those aspects, but on balance I think it’s a risk worth taking given Howard’s disgusting record of deceit and social division.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Can’t say that I’m used to being addressed in the third person, Ken. We seem to studiously misread each other: I did note that Hawke was the most liberalising PM of Australian history. Sure the Libs carried on the torch.

The question, as I said, is whether you want Costello, who has no unions, lefties or greenies inside the tent to worry about; or if you want Latham, who does.

If Latham is hamstrung by various antiliberal forces, he’ll have to comprimise. He’ll have to suck up. And he lacks the huge populist power that Hawke was able to bring to these disputes.

If Costello is hamstrung by various antiliberal forces, I expect he’ll do what Howard does: keep arguing the case, periodically return to the issue, and pick two or three items to take to a general election. For all of Howard’s many flaws, this strikes me as more democratic than backroom deals and provisional suckup contests.

You see, the Greens may get the balance of power, but I’ve more faith in a Howard/Costello lower house standing up to the greens than a Latham one.

Not a propaganda line. This is my own opinion. I’m still allowed the presumption that I can think for myself?

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

An addendum: I’ve confused this thread with another one, in which I commented on Hawke’s reign. So you didn’t misread as much as I had thought.

My error :)

trackback
2022 years ago

If you blog it, they will come

As others have pointed out, the “left” of the Australian blogosphere has had the jump on their counterparts on the “right” in terms of election coverage. Interesting tho think why this might be. Regardless, I just wanted to give a…