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.