Still pessimistic

The more I think about it, the more depressingly convinced I become that Howard is going to win on Saturday. It’s not just the opinion polls or Howard’s confident demeanour, or the fact that the betting markets have turned decisively against Labor.

It’s also that basic conservative dynamic of sticking with the devil you know in prosperous but dangerous times. Labor optimists point to the fact that Howard won in 1996 when the economy was also prosperous, but those were very different circumstances. Paul Keating was electoral poison, because he’d created the “recession we had to have”, jacked interest rates through the roof, hijacked the 1993 election by fraudulently promising “L-A-W” law tax cuts and then reneging on them, and then spent the next three years swanning around and promoting trendy (but irrelevant to most people) issues like Aboriginal reconciliation, the republic and APEC. The arch-pragmatist Howard by contrast has always kept his eye on the ball and presided over a record era of prosperous times and low interest rates, with home owners in south-eastern Australia enjoying seemingly amazing wealth. Even if some voters have registered that Howard was a bit dodgy in his claims over children overboard (and Iraq), these things don’t hit them in the hip pocket in the way Keating’s Great Lie did. It’s abundantly clear that Labor’s dishonesty blitz didn’t succeed in turning Howard into a hated figure like Keating had become by 1996.

Not even the parties’ respective attack ad blitzes seem likely to make any real difference. The Coalition’s centrepiece “would you trust a bloke who stuffed up running a local council” ad may be moderately effective in reinforcing doubts about Latham’s qualifications and experience for government. But I doubt very much that Labor’s “Howard is ready to leave” ads are likely to prove a devastating weapon. For a start, even many close observers of politics don’t actually believe Howard is ready to leave at all. Canny observer Homer Paxton says they’ll carry Howard out of Parliament in a pine box.

And even if some voters do think Howard will soon retire, are they really as frightened of Peter Costello as the Labor ads tacitly assume? Certainly he has a low approval rating in opinion polling, but that’s been true of all federal treasurers. Costello has an especially irritating smirk, but I doubt that he’s anywhere near as unpopular as Keating was as Treasurer. Unlike Keating, Costello hasn’t had to administer harsh economic medicine or be the bearer of bad news. Like Howard, he’s presided over a period of unparalleled low interest rates and prosperity, while the label of “highest taxing government in history” hasn’t stuck (it’s been true of every Australian government, and most voters ignore these claims and rightly assume they’re just typical partisan political slagging). I doubt that the average punter lies awake at night dreading Costello becoming PM, and I doubt Labor’s attack ads will create any significant last-minute momentum in its favour.

Update – Malcolm Farr at News Online also doubts that Costello is as unpopular as Labor thinks, and backs up his intuition with references to polling. And someone in another comment box reckons Howard has just explicitly promised to stay another 3 years (although I can’t find a media report of it yet). It looks like Homer was right. So much for Labor’s attack ads.

Update 2- Mind you, Robert Corr mounts a moderately persuasive argument that the large number of undecided voters at this very late stage might well swing Latham’s way, something that apparently occurred when Jeff Kennett lost in Victoria. I certainly hope Rob is correct. Few things would give me greater pleasure than to be able to write a post on Sunday morning headlined “Hurray! I wuz wrong”.

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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Robert
2021 years ago

Labor’s anti-Costello ads are, as with all advertising, the result of careful focus group analysis. But I think you’re right that they’re not going to change votes.

On the other hand, I don’t think they’re supposed to. They’re designed to neutralise the Libs negative ads by throwing a few more conflicting negative ads into the mix. People will stop listening to both sides, because they’re boring.

The blackout starts tonight, so the ads are irrelevant. It’s up to the leaders to force a swing. I think Latham’s been far and away the better performer, so he’s better placed to carry the last few days and take the crucial undecided vote.

I’ve shown my hand and I don’t share your pessimism.

Robert
2021 years ago

I also don’t think Howard made any such commitment. But surely his pretence that he has done so is further evidence that the Costello message is biting in the electorate?

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

Canny, what a compliment.

I ask anyone who thinks howard will retire what would he do.
his whole life has been politics.

Who out there really believes howard would like costello to change the howard legacy?

yarraside
yarraside
2021 years ago

I can’t help but think there are many ‘soft’ Liberal voters who have qualms about John Howard on various issues (republic, reconciliation, etc) who would actually be encouraged to vote Liberal with the prospect that Peter Costello will take over the reins in the next term.

That way they get to vote for strong economic management with the belief that a more compassionate, socially moderate PM is just around the corner.

Ironically, Labor’s ads pushing Costello may just help Howard remain PM a little longer.

Geoff -Honnor
Geoff -Honnor
2021 years ago

There’s no 96/04 analogy between PJK and Howard. The correct comparator is Jeff Kennett. PJK and Kennettt were both perceived as up-themselves, arrogant arseholes who viewed the punters as malleable riffraff. No-one in Australia (if they’re honest) could admit to feeling patronised or intimidated by the famously boring, bland, obdurate, persistent little North Shore suburban solicitor. He’s about as far removed from PJK and The Jeff as it’s possible to be. No-one likes Howard but, importantly, around 70% of the electorate don’t hate him either. The 30% who famously do have created a nightmarish, overblown, evil genius, spectral vision of the guy which just doesn’t resonate with the mass of punters. I mean, John Howard?!

The Lies! Lies! Lies! thing has gone down like a lead balloon and it’s not as the comments threads on Back Pages would have it – because most Australians are stupid/ignorant/greedy/racist/etc – it’s more, that there’s a general acceptance that all pollies are self-serving, loose with the truth and spin like Rumpelstiltskin’s Princess. I’m absolutely unconvinced that the politicisation of the bureacracy, credit-fuelled consumerism and any other allegedly Howard-specific woes you care to mention would not have occurred under a Labor administration. Indeed, the first two phenomena are pretty much characteristic of much of the western world regardless of governmental colour.

Howard however is different in this sense: he’s this obstinate, uncharismatic, immovable unattractive little bloke who just hangs on in there. In so doing, he’s come to represent a solidity and permanence that many people seemed to have found worthy of respect – no matter how grudging. I personally think that he’s about to find out that that kind of appeal is ultimately time-limited. There’s a fine line between political security-blanket and terminal boredom and we’re arguably at the point where Latham can win it because the other mob look like they’ve run out of puff.

Latham is on to this. He’s talking a balanced takeover. No cockiness, no high jinks, no Gough and Lance duumvirate. Were it politically feasible to do so, he’d be saying “business as usual.” It’s not for nothing that Latham and Howard share origins in the less than privileged west of Sydney. Latham hasn’t used the “Howard: Liar and War Criminal” approach that some might have urged upon him. He knows there’s no mileage in that.

The stark – perhaps depressing – political reality is that people don’t want social visions, grand plans and truth and reconciliation retribution. They want more of the same. Only better, easier, more comfortable. Evolution not Revolution.

I’ve warmed to Latham as time has gone on, despite his addiction to “we’re all climbing up sunshine mountain” cliche, an irritating speaking style (utter key phrase, repeat key phrase, use key phrase to start next sentence) and a penchant for cunningly crafted porkies that might, at times, make Howard gasp in admiration. He’s much more accomplished than I would have given him credit for a few months ago and he’s clearly won the campaign. He’s still an unknown quantity but, increasingly, the message is maybe that he’s bigger than Howard while still encompassing (and celebrating )some of Howard’s perceived political virtues – stickability, hard-work, cutting through, not a silvertail etc. He’s also a bit of a larrikin which Howard most definitely is not and a kind of considered larrikinism of the Hawke variety, is always electorally appealing.

I’m still convinced it’s within his grasp.

Guido
2021 years ago

As I said somewhere else, Howard’s chickens may come to roost anyway

Robert
2021 years ago

Geoff, I reckon you’re right. While the Left (including me) think Latham’s bad point is that he’s a social democratic Howard, most people think that’s a good thing.

Link
2021 years ago

“It’s also that basic conservative dynamic of sticking with the devil you know in prosperous but dangerous times”

But its the devil (s) we know who’s made the times so dangerous.

Lathams’ aspriationals have benefitted under Howard, as has Latham. Labor have no intention of taking big risks economically and it couldn’t be said that any of their electoral promises are ‘big risks’. We’re due for some sort of economic/real estate bust anyway – either way.

The only big risk Latham is taking which I can see is the notion of ‘honesty in government’. I might be naive but honesty in government when the US and big business are breathing threateningly down your neck, may just be too much of an ask. (Very depressing). I’d very much like to see him attempt it however, it certainly could do no harm!

I’m up and down with everyone else, with no idea who’s gonna romp or limp in. But should the worse case scenario eventuate, if Howard dares say that he’s been given ‘a mandate by the Australian people’, I’ll . . . . . . . be sending him a really strong letter! Gee its better than sport really isn’t it?

still working it out
still working it out
2021 years ago

The sad thing about the Howard government is how little it has actually done. Think back over the whole of his government and the only significant features are keeping the budget in surplus and implement a GST. Aside from that he has been unable and unwilling to actually move forward any kind of serious agenda. The only changes that Howard has implemented have been stealth ones at the edges like the tricky change in funding arrangements for private schools or slowly killing Medicare through refusing to increase payments to doctors to keep up with costs.

When pressed, they complain that the Senate is stacked against them, which is true, but its stacked against them because that is how Australians vote. If the Howardians really had some convictions about their values they would accept that they cannot change Australia into something closer to their ideal unless they actually campaign and win an election on some kind of conservative vision for what Australia should be. They could then claim a mandate with which to tackle the Senate and maybe have enough seats in the Senate to get some real change through. The truth is though, they know such a campaign would be almost suicidally risky. They would likely lose badly because Australians just do not believe and would not vote for Howard’s real vision of Australia. That is the lesson that Howard has learnt over his 30 years of public like.

People call Howard a very pragmatic politician. The truth is that he is a social conservative who has given up. He wants to be Prime Minister, not for what he can do, but to stop Labour/Democrats/Greens from implementing their agenda. He is there for defense only. Knowing he cannot win elections on his real values, he campaigns on anything that will win him an election. That is why he is so pragmatic.

It makes him very difficult to beat in elections, but it has also taught Labour some bad habits. They themselves try to run purely on pramatism. I don’t think that works when actually winning government as can be seen in their recent election results and the current election. If they win, it will be by a very small margin. Howard could be beaten by a strong “vision” candidate because he has none himself that he dare make public. But Labour has become scared of running a vision of its own.

The Howard years have been one long period of Australia standing still with a bit of slow deterioation in a few areas such as health, education and the ABC. I don’t have any fear of another three years of Howard. Barring him mishandling some some sort of regional diplomatic disaster, the Senate will stop him doing any real damage. I would just feel disappointment at the lost opportunity for Australia to really move forward.

Tony.T
2021 years ago

Well said as usual, Geoff. Agreed.

Ken …

… while the label of “highest taxing government in history” hasn’t stuck …

It probably hasn’t stuck because most punters don’t believe Labor would tax any less and are just waiting THEIR turn to become the HTGIH.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

“I don’t think that [pragmatism]works when actually winning government as can be seen in their [Labor’s]recent election results and the current election.”

Still, I think you’ve overlooked the small matter of the successful state universally-Labor governments, for whom ‘vision’ is pretty much what you see out of an office window. In the NT I think you could maybe talk about ‘vision’ but it was more about stacking Clare Martin against a bunch of endlessly timeserving big-bellied rednecks: nolo contendre as they used to say in Rome.

Even Gough didn’t really win on vision. He won on “it’s time.” The vision pretty much came later
and Malcolm Fraser won on pointing out it’s deficiencies.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

“He’s also a bit of a larrikin which Howard most definitely is not and a kind of considered larrikinism of the Hawke variety, is always electorally appealing.”

But it’s a bit more than Hawke’s ‘considered’ larrikinism, isn’t it, Geoff? I’m sure I’ve heard Latham say something like: ” I believe in larrikinism as a way of life. Fair dinkum, mates.” What on earth could ‘Larrikinism-as-a way-of -life’ actually mean?

Anyway, it seems totally affected, and it’s very unappealing. Though maybe Hawke was just as faux-ocker, just as cringe-making?

Come back Kim Beasley (sigh)…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Wen

I share your reaction to Latham. His “larrikinism” is so calculated and self-conscious as to be quite repugnant to my taste. It’s probably why I haven’t warmed to him despite his policy approach being quite similar to my own views in many ways. Hawkie’s persona was also studied, but I found it quite attractive most of the time.

I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong per se with calculatedly adopting/developing a particular persona. Everyone does it to a limited extent, and maybe politics demands it to a greater degree given its increasingly presidential style and the necessity for 10 second TV grabs.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2021 years ago

Ken, your response to Wen about Latham’s “larrikinism” is just an empty apologia for someone whom you personally like. Any affected characteristic of John Howard would be written off by you as cynical. You’re far from alone in this and Saturday can’t pass quickly enough so far as I’m concerned. I’m sick to death of the whole bloody stupid charade.

Link
2021 years ago

Now why would the True RWDB be wishing that Saturday would just go away and be done with? tee hee.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2021 years ago

What you’re implying, Link, is that I think Latham is gunna win. I plead guilty. I think he’ll win by a landslide. I guess the reaction of some men on death row is “please get it over with, quick”. I feel the same way.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

TRWDB

I certainly hope you’re right, even if you don’t. Strange that you and Al Bundy are so convinced Labor is going to win, and I’m equally pessimistic in the other direction. I guess it’s just our personality types. Most of the lefties over at Sheil’s joint seem to be quite cock-a-hoop. I’m not sure whether I want to share their feeling or not. I think I’d rather have negative expectations and then be pleasantly surprised if Labor really DOES win. Maybe you and Al Bundy (and Tim Blair) are working on the same psychology but from an opposite political perspective. I suspect the reality is that it remains impossible to predict with confidence who’s going to win.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2021 years ago

You do just get bloody sick of the carping negativity of those fools in the incoming government, just the same.

Today’s employment figures were unambiguously good news, evidence of the good quality of government we’ve been experiencing in the past decade (and I DO give credit to the Hawke government for initiating reforms after the appalling backwardness of the Fraser years), and what is the new government’s comment?:

“The Opposition’s employment spokeswoman Jenny Macklin says teenagers are missing out.
“It’s just not good enough that one in five teenagers are out of work and looking for a full-time job,” she said.”

OK, but a little credit where it’s due please. I know it’s just part of “the game”, but it shits me all the same.

Tony.T
2021 years ago

I heard Latham this morning say something along the lines of “There are 800,000 children going to bed tonight without knowing whether their parents will have a job in the morning.” Bizarre.

woodsy
woodsy
2021 years ago

Are those 800,000 children living in poverty or what ?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Of course not. It’s after 1990, you silly person. No children live in poverty nowadays. There are a few living in immigration detention, but that’s another question.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2021 years ago

Poverty is any economic state worse than mine and obscene wealth is any economic state better than mine. Understand that, and you don’t need to know anything else about either economics or politics. Naturally I weep tears into my latte for the former and hate the latter with a bitter class hatred a la Mark Latham.