If you can’t win the game then change the rules

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At Larvatus Prodeo Mark Bahnisch argues that Team Rudd is blurring the differences between Labor and the Coalition and driving left-leaning voters back towards the Greens, Democrats and independents:

So much for product differentiation, Rudd style. Kim Beazley could quite rightly say that Labor had sharpened its differences with the government this term, and this was going to make the next election something quite rare these days in Australian politics – a genuine contest of ideologies and ideas.

But Rudd and various newly anointed and reshuffled shadows have spent the week blurring the differences. Passive welfare be damned, “symbolic reconciliation” is out, there’s no difference between private and public schools, there’ll be “careful consultation” with America on Iraq, political correctness is out and the 3Rs back in.

It’s a puzzling strategy.

But is it really that puzzling? It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that issues and positions exist independently of the players. It’s easy but it’s wrong.

According to the fixed issues/positions model the game is structured by:

  • Issues: For example, welfare, the war in Iraq, political correctness, climate change.
  • Positions: Is there a right to welfare or should the government insist on mutual obligation? Is political correctness a kind of censorship or just good manners? Should we ‘cut and run’ or ‘stay the course in Iraq’? Is global warming real or just a theory?
  • Left/right: Issues are mapped onto a left/right dimension where each issue has a left position and a right position. For example, ‘cutting and running’ in Iraq is left and ‘staying the course is right.’
  • Voters: The voters also map onto a left/right dimension with strong partisans at each end and confused and ill-informed swing voters clustered around the middle.

Mark seems to be arguing that Beazley won over left-leaning Green and Democrat voters by taking positions that put him clearly to the left of the Coalition. Now Rudd is putting these votes at risk by taking positions which move Labor to the right and into territory where it can’t win. According to Mark, "conservative voters are going to (sensibly) vote for a really conservative party, not for a largely secular and socially liberal party with a new line in values talk."

If Mark is right then maybe Labor should stand its ground and rely on persuasion to move confused and ill-informed voters away from the centre and towards more left wing positions.

But the trouble with this analysis is that the game’s structure isn’t fixed. New issues are born and old issues die. Fresh positions can be created by reframing an issue. Not all issues map neatly onto a left/right continuum. And voters are able to mix and match ‘left’ and ‘right’ positions without being hopelessly confused (for example, libertarians and populists). Political campaigning is game where players can change the rules.

It’s pretty clear that Team Rudd isn’t going to let the Coalition to peel it away from undecided voters by boxing it into predefined positions far to their left. For example, Labor is trying to reframe the issue of multiculturalism. According to pundits like Andrew Bolt, culture is about moral values and multiculturalism is about government support for cultural separatism. To be in favour of multiculturalism is to be in favour of government funding for dangerous Islamic extremists.

But Labor’s Tony Burke is reframing the issue so that the opposite of multiculturalism is monoculturalism — a nation where everyone has the same religion, eats the same food, and lives life the same way. Monoculturalism means an end to the cosmopolitanism of cities like Sydney and Melbourne. If you like laksa then you like multiculturalism.

According to Burke integration is how you make multiculturalism work. And under Rudd, Labor is claiming ownership of this new issue by framing it in terms of education and opposition to temporary protection visas. Burke argues that the Coalition has dropped the ball on English language tuition. And if migrants can’t learn English, then how can the integrate? And on temporary protection visas the message is similar:

"The Government’s use of consecutive temporary protection visas has sent a message to the visa-holders to not integrate," he said. "Labor believes it’s better for Australia to make a decision … if someone’s leaving, they should get on a plane; if they’re staying they should get on with a new life as part of the Australian community."

When it comes to multiculturalism and integration the game’s structure is not fixed. It’s not clear that there really is a clearly defined ‘multiculturalism issue’. The meaning of the term is contested. And unless voters agree on how to frame the issue it’s not clear that there really are set positions to be taken. Is integration a position on the multiculturalism issue or is it a new issue in its own right?

Mark seems to think that Rudd has adopted a small target strategy — that he’s blurring differences on the issues and moving closer to Howard so that disgruntled right wing voters feel safe enough to dump him. But Rudd has made his differences with Howard clear in his articles for the Monthly (pdf) and his speech to the Centre for Independent Studies (pdf). And by separating conservatives from ‘market fundamentalists’ he is refusing to accept that all voters lie along a single left/right continuum.

I’m surprised that Mark thinks that Kim Beazley did a better job sharpening Labor’s differences with the government. Beazley always seemed very grumpy about the Howard government and its policies but he never explained why. I never really got a sense of what made Beazley tick. In contrast Rudd doesn’t just take positions on issues, he tells a story to explain why he takes them. Rudd is defining himself for the electorate.

The greater the number of differences Rudd creates between Labor and the Coalition the more freedom Howard and his strategists have to define him in a way that suits them. By limiting the number of policy differences Rudd gains more control over how the voters perceive him. Journalists are more interested in talking about an issue if there is conflict. If Rudd refuses to play along then the issue is more likely to drop off the agenda.

It seems to me that Rudd is simply refusing to allow his opponents to dictate the issues he’ll campaign on. I don’t see how this is a small target or a failure in ‘product differentiation’.

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Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
14 years ago

Very interesting Don.

I was very taken with Rudd’s CIS speech – as I said at the time. Very few mainstream pollies’ ‘vision’ or ‘philosophy’ speeches get much beyond cliche. Rudd showed some courage and some vigour in tackling the right of centre at its heart. I’m an admirer of lots of the good things in Hayek (like the simplicity and power of his central arguments – developed from Smith about order without design). Perhaps I admire him because I came to him not that long ago and what he had to say was a powerful critique of lots that had gone wrong with the left of centre project. And, as you’ve pointed out, Rudd’s Hayek may not be entirely accurate in places. But he reminded me with real force what’s wrong with Hayek. I reckon he’s got no heart – though Rudd didn’t put it that way. And (unlike Smith) he is a reactionary in the sense that he is reacting to some bad things. He comes up with a good critique of those bad things, but after that Hayek is pretty repetitive. He’s not rich enough to furnish a satisfying political philosophy.

(err – I think I’ve got myself a tad off topic but there you go – it’s late. And I really liked the post.)

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Mark seems to be arguing that Beazley won over left-leaning Green and Democrat voters by taking positions that put him clearly to the left of the Coalition. Now Rudd is putting these votes at risk by taking positions which move Labor to the right and into territory where it can’t win.

No, Don, if you read again, you’ll see I was saying Beazley has lost those voters, and the polls showed or appeared to show that they’d come back to Labor in anticipation of a less conservative leadership from Rudd.

Nor do I ever argue there’s any essentialism to the left/right distinction.

You go on to write:

It’s pretty clear that Team Rudd isn’t going to let the Coalition to peel it away from undecided voters by boxing it into predefined positions far to their left. For example, Labor is trying to reframe the issue of multiculturalism.

Yes, but. Is the nuance communicated? There’s a difference between Tony Burke making a speech and what the voters pick up. It’s certainly an attempt to neutralise the differences, and I agree with the conclusion that you reach in your last para, because it’s mine too. It’s textbook political strategy to blur your difference with your opponent except on the turf that you want to fight on.

I haven’t read the CIS speech, though I’ve noticed a number of people about the show whom I respect saying it’s good stuff. I wasn’t bowled over by the Monthly pieces because they seemed to me to be too derivative of David McKnight’s stuff which I see as a conflation of a lot of different ideas and narratives into a story that just isn’t convincing. But I can bet you any money you like the number of people who’ve read either would be in the thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands.

But there are probably 2 and a half million or so voters who aren’t rusted on to Labor or the Coalition. How does Rudd encapsulate his positive message for them?

That’s what I’m waiting to hear.

FWIW, I thought Michelle Grattan’s latest column is pretty much on the money:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/michelle-grattan/goodbye-to-the-old-alp/2006/12/14/1165685821343.html

Although he has been talking his head off, what “Rudd Labor” will eventually look like and how different it will be from “Beazley Labor” is elusive. The new leader is disciplined and cautious. Despite all the words, he hasn’t used the cover of the transition to change anything major (he did bury Beazley’s proposal to make people seeking visas sign up to Australian values).

Rudd faces tricky choices. Beazley had prided himself on sharpening the differences with the Coalition, especially with his hard line on industrial relations (most notably his promise to scrap Australian Workplace Agreements) and his total opposition to nuclear power. When he belatedly embraced “big target” politics, Beazley did it with a vengeance.

Rudd inherits this legacy. Many would say he should substantially restructure it. Doing so would not be as simple as it sounds. Sections of Labor’s support base are locked into core policies. The pros and cons of taking Labor closer to Howard are also debatable. If Labor looked a pale version of the Coalition, why wouldn’t swinging voters just vote for the experienced bloke?

That’s basically my argument in the post.

She also observes:

The community and Labor know, to their relief, one thing about Kevin Rudd: he is not another Mark Latham. But nor is he a Gough Whitlam or a Bob Hawke. The question is whether he can muster the fire power of a John Howard Mark 2 – without the great benefit Howard had of a highly unpopular government and well-known persona.

Which is pretty much what I’m saying too. [Sometimes you wonder if highly paid commentators read blogs?]

The Rudd road show is not an election campaign. As Grattan observes, voters don’t know much of what he stands for. That was also a concern of a lot of Labor members who ended up backing Beazley – it’s not to his discredit, it’s just that a leader has to take a wide range of positions and his weren’t known widely.

What an election campaign has that the tour doesn’t is an overarching theme or message. What worries me is that this hasn’t yet been articulated – though there’ve been several stabs in that direction – ie fairness. I’m concerned if “a bridge too far” is taken to be a rerun of Howard’s strategy against Keating – ie things are on the right track, but I’m not that bloke. I’m not saying that it is, just that it might be. I doubt it’s been worked out yet.

What I worry about is the scattergun approach of it all.

People might scorn soundbites but when you’ve done polling as I have and seen party polling, you realise from the qualitative stuff that the best pollies – like Beattie – can embed not just the words but the message in the way people conceive of issues. So you do need to have something that ties all the policy threads together. No one’s going to vote for you just because you said dental care should be publicly funded.

I’m not trying to diss Rudd, but to express some concerns.

As he himself said, those who are too buoyed up by the polls need to take a cold shower.

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

With a good measure of this article referring to Mark’s piece, I’d gently suggest that with Christmas coming Rudd’s approach at present is leaving Mark short of substance with which to write a meaty post, a bit like grasping in the wind. So wind we get, and it’s easy to angst about that.

In terms of the ‘left’ ‘right’ thing, it would be of interest to have a reliable set of figures on it, but it seems to me that voters are hardly interested in the left/right paradigm (which itself is illusory), and more interested in how an issue affects them in pragmatic terms. The left/right thing is dramatised on the web, where thoughtful people stuck for time or free behind nicknames can throw out pointed comments. It is also used of course commonly in msm, but I think it would be a fair assumption that the bulk of the voting mass couldn’t care much about it. Rudd, by using the term ‘Right’ is doing so to highlight the simple point that “Howard has gone too far”, and that by doing so he is giving voters the message that he’s more trustworthy, a safe harbour after the extreme Howard policies (ring a bell?) that sort of thing.

The thing about all this at present is that Rudd is going to disappoint the meat-eating commentariat, but it seems to me in this preXmas period he’s out to establish a point of difference really just based on ‘style’. The simple idea that he’s ‘out there listening’ is a good perception enough in the vague politically disconnected minds. If they look a little further, they see a bloke in casuals out and about, smiling (check out Howard’ use of the ‘smile’), keeping things moving.

Hence, ‘product differentiation’ right now is really about ‘style’ – which is effectively being established, bit by bit. It’s a seriously solid platform on which to run. And if any vaguely interested punters are talking politics, style is what they’ll be talking about.

Amanda
14 years ago

Every comment about Rudd’s political chances which mentions The Monthly or the CIS but not Sunrise — into the bin!

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

In other words, the political substance is in the style.

Mr Denmore
Mr Denmore
14 years ago

Rudd’s dilemma in differentiating himself stems purely from the difficulty of asking people to change governments amid good economic times.

If he champions “industry policy” too much, he scares off the business vote and the socially and economically liberal urban professionals who can’t bear Howard but are turned off by anachronistic labour class rhetoric.

But if he overdoes the don’t-scare-the-horses “I’m no socialist” stuff, he leaks left-wing support to the greens and independents.

That’s why he is treading gingerly and playing to his strengths. He knows he’ll he’s not a Hawke-Whitlam technicolour Labour leader waving the old red flag. Nor is he a Lathamesque bust-the-door-down type.

So he has to offer another alternative – one that combines his perceived strength of cool, centrist, managerial competence with a dawning sense among the electorate that Howard has pushed his agenda to an ideological extreme.

As to the waivering left, you still have to ask where their second preferences will go. Surely not to Howard.

Rudd’s challenge, then, is to win back the former rusted-on Labor supporters who joined the entrepreneurial economy and swung behind Howard in the past decade. On that score, the economy may help him in the coming year. But he can’t count on it.

In the final analysis, his biggest hope is the ‘it’s time’ factor – the sense that Howard has outstayed his welcome and a general political swing back from the right to the centre (as seen in the US congressional elections).

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Mark – I stand corrected. You didn’t say that Beazley had won over the left-leaning voters. You said that they’d come back after Rudd took over and that he was probably going to scare them away again.

I’m still not sure why I should be puzzled by Rudd’s approach. As you say yourself “It’s textbook political strategy to blur your difference with your opponent except on the turf that you want to fight on.”

And maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but where all these ideas and ideologicial positions you’ve attributed to Beazley? He was always saying “Here’s what I stand for…” but never telling a story about why he stood there rather than somewhere else.

As for Rudd’s message, I think it’s pretty clear. Every time Howard is re-elected he takes another step down the ‘market fundamentalist’ path. If you vote for him again this time you won’t get steady-as-she-goes you’ll get a new wave of reform — something every bit as radical as the GST or WorkChoices. In a sentence — John Howard is not a safe pair of hands.

I’m not saying I agree with Rudd but I think I can see how he’s differentiating himself from Howard.

It seems to me that Rudd’s problem isn’t a lack of ideas — it’s the ‘Spock Factor’, a lack of emotional connect.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

“Every comment about Rudd’s political chances which mentions The Monthly or the CIS but not Sunrise —

Amanda
14 years ago

Of course those other things are important too. Never would deny it.

But. I see alot of talking by us op-ed/blog types about those and Sunrise hardly mentioned. I was yelping out loud at Matt Price on Insiders when he was saying no one knows who Rudd is. I’m in danger of this becoming my “fork in the road” I’m banging on about it so much but I really very strongly feel 95% of the analysis of Rudd misses this point. When people say “voters don’t know anything about Kevin Rudd”, I really can’t accept it as true. The evidence I have seen (polling on name recognition etc and anecdotal) is contra that, although not definitive of course. If all you know about Kevin Rudd is from speeches and his hardcore political work, I can see why you might have that impression. Usually, it would be reasonable to assume that impresssion carries over to the general public — if wonky types don’t have a clear impression, neither will people who pay less attention — but in this case I think its the opposite, the general public have a better, more rounded idea of Rudd than us wonks. He’s had a couple of years worth of positive exposure on a major commercial television show. Sunrise I think flies under the radar of alot of people writing these opinions, and the influence of it is not being given due consideration.

On Sunrise, the types of questions asked are pretty much determined by the issue of the day. This morning (he’s on with Joe Hockey every Friday at around 7.20 if anyone’s interested, I recommend tuning in) it was Qantas and dental health. Rudd got the message out on both succinctly and well. Anyone watching it would now know very clearly where he and the ALP (disclosure: of which I am a member) stands. Those soundbites will be repeated all day and night on news broadcasts.

Then they went on to talk about the fact Hockey’s wife is due to give birth next week, which lead to much hilarity about calling the child “Kevin” or “Julia” and whatnot, and how hopeless men are in the delivery room. Jokes, laughs, smiles all round — which Rudd also does well at. He’s got a nice line in jovial one liners, and some decent comic timing. I also strongly suspect if he was not connecting on the personality level Channel Seven would have boned him from the segment a long time ago.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Amanda – Well I can’t argue with that. I shouldn’t comment on Rudd’s ability to connect without watching Sunrise.

And take your point about soundbites from the show being repeated on the news.

What does the polling on name recognition say?

Amanda
14 years ago

I am going by Mark’s reporting of internal polling.

The fact that 17% didn’t know who he was is being used as a negative but what stands out to me is that 83% do know who he is which strikes me as extraordinarily high for a Shadow Foreign Minister, especially one we are being told has the cut through personality potential of a wet sock. A priggish wet sock, no less. I’d like to see comparative numbers (Hawkey?) and many millions of people are more knowledgeable about these things than me and it doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks and alot of work to do and legitimate areas for debate but 83% jumps out as being pretty significant.

I didn’t mean to sound snarky in my first comment but thinking of that Shaun Micallef “in the bin!” segment still makes me chuckle … ;-)

Mr Denmore
Mr Denmore
14 years ago

As someone connected to the media, I have to agree that insider types who say Rudd has no recognition factor are being just a little glib.

But I’d venture that a good chunk of the general population still doesn’t know what position he holds or even what party he is from. All they know he’s that a politician.

The more media space he commands – the more he keeps popping up in news bulletins – the more people are likely to sit up and listen to him and get a fix on where he stands in relation to Howard.

At this stage, I think he is on the right track just hammering home the message that Howard is an extremist dressed up in middle-of-the-road clothing.

It is a message the general population is ready to hear because it is what their own instincts, finally, are telling them.

Once they are listening, Rudd can offer the alternative – namely a government that puts people first and practises what it preaches. So the script goes:

–Howard says he’s a great economic manager – but interest rates are rising because he hasn’t properly invested the proceeds of good economic times.
–Howard says he’s made us more secure as a nation – but he took us into an illegal war and failed to offer wise counsel to our great ally.
–Howard says he’s for families – but his law-of-the-jungle workplace policies are tearing them apart.
–Howard says he’s for mateship and a fair go and the great open-hearted spirit of Australia – but he’s locked up Australian kids in jail.

–What does Labor offer? Labor is the party that set Australia up for the long boom of the past decade and a half.
–Labor embraces reform because it is good for people, not as an end in itself.
–Labor believes in an independent Australia which shows respect to its allies by agreeing to differ when our interests require it.
–Labor understands that freedom cannot exist without fairness.
–And Labor knows that the energies that make us prosper stem from the very qualities that Mr Howard is undermining – our courage, our open-heartedness, our live-and-let-live spirt and our feeling for the underdog.

David Walker
David Walker(@d-w-griffiths)
14 years ago

Quote of the week: “Every comment about Rudd’s political chances which mentions The Monthly or the CIS but not Sunrise —

Ingolf
14 years ago

I’m with Amanda and Mr Denmore on this one. My impression so far is that Rudd is striking pretty much exactly the right balance.

He had a brief chat with Fran Kelly a few days ago that I happened upon and my first impression was his relaxed manner, which is why I call it a chat rather than an interview. He came across as personable, down to earth, clear, unhurried and he actually listened to Fran. In other words, it was a real conversation. This is not the norm from politicians and is in itself a powerful point of differentiation.

It’s very early days of course but I wonder if most commentators are giving Rudd enough credit for what I suspect is a very conscious long term strategic positioning plan. Not just in policy substance, but in his relationship to people. My guess would be that he’s completely aware of the importance of a slow “getting to know you” process and will allow, wherever possible, policy differences to arise naturally through that ongoing conversation.

I believe there is a powerful latent dissatisfaction with the path taken in the last 5-6 years, an inchoate feeling that we’re not quite being true to the best in ourselves. That Howard has pushed us in the direction of being less than we could and should be through a combination of playing on fear and division and through general banality.

Rudd, if I read him right, is looking to draw on this better part of Australian attitudes and culture but if he is to succeed, he must do so slowly and gently. His disagreements with the government must be seen to be “more in sorrow than anger” and they must point towards greater inclusiveness and the growth of a quiet pride in what it means to be Australian.

It may be I’m imputing to him all manner of things that just aren’t so. I hope not. It really would be lovely to have a somewhat intelligent and compassionate player in what has increasingly become the arid and absurd game of Australian politics.

Ingolf
14 years ago

Just read your piece again, Mr Denmore. If you’re not already advising Rudd, you should be. I think your points of diffentiation are exactly right and would, if carefully and consistently promoted over the next 9-11 months, virtually guarantee a Labour win.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
14 years ago

Ingolf, having read your endorsement I went back and read Mr Denmore more closely too. This is a great thread and I agree with you and Mr D.

cs
cs
14 years ago

I’m also with Amanda on this. My guess is that while the Punditariat gets in a twist about words in press reports etc, Ruddy has long been sitting in the punters’ lounge rooms having a cup of tea with them.

Few people read newspapers anymore, especially in Australia (circulation, already low by international standards, has dropped by 50 per cent in recent decades and is still falling). The main function of the press these days is to feed stories into the electronic mediums where, in contrast to the increasingly unread press, 99 per cent of households own at least one television and Australians watch on average 20 hours a week. In this context, it is the capacity of politicans to convey their personality on the small screen that is most telling, not whatever or wherever they might stand on this or that arcane policy point.

It is in this context that the Beazer looked comatose or, if he didn’t, viewers soon were. It is this context that Howard feeds relentlessly, usually by being flimed appearing on a lackey talk-show host’s radio program in the morning, disengenuously supplying an answer to some mug punter’s question. The film bite then plays all day, feeding back into the press.

Flick back to Hawkey, the first Australian would-be PM to ever sell his personality to Australia through tv (on which, pre-election, he said he was a socialist!). What did Hawkey stand for? “Consensus” Hah! Hah! Please define? Hawkey didn’t even put out a tax policy before his election, sending it to the post-election tax summitt.

Television is where the ‘public’ is today, and Ruddy has now been there for years. It is, in other words, conceivable that much of this ‘policy’ debate is already entirely redundant. Conceivably, they already know him, where it really matters – on television.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

As for Rudd’s message, I think it’s pretty clear. Every time Howard is re-elected he takes another step down the ‘market fundamentalist’ path. If you vote for him again this time you won’t get steady-as-she-goes you’ll get a new wave of reform —

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago
Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

What did Hawkey stand for? “Consensus”

cs
cs
14 years ago

IMHO, that’s pointy-head clap-trap, Mark. Hawke exploited his fire-man’s role in industrial conflicts to convey his personality to the public through television, which voters liked. Graham Freudenberg, Labor’s most celebrated speech writer (and a former television news director), has noted how Hawke’s rise to the lodge paralleled “exactly the technological advances which made television the premium medium for national politics”

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

So Rudd’s going to win because he comes across well on tv, cs? Having an actual theme is “pointy-head clap-trap”? Are you really saying he’s a shoe-in just because he comes across well on the tele?

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Does Rudd come across well on tv?

Kimberella
14 years ago

cs is quite the Rudd fanboy.

Rudd has nothing to learn from anyone.

The team’s doing real fine, and by this stage will be most of all needing a very good holiday break. There are very few qualified to teach them how to suck eggs, including Gratten. She might imagine that the Beazer sharpened differences between the parties, but everyone I know just saw the same old loser from the same old era. In Rudd, Gillard, Combet and Burrows, the Australian labour movement now has four real bright sparks, all around the same age, and almost certainly comprising the most talented leadership across the board ever. Get behind them I say; this time we’re going all the way.

http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/12/14/the-great-moving-right-show/#comment-238460

Third, the roadshow is brilliant, supplying easy daily colour and movement as the media slope off into the silly season and everyone watches the cricket and goes to the beach. Fourth, Rudd’s critique of Hayek was crisp and well-targeted. Fifth, the idea that amateurs can lord advice on how to communicate political messages to someone like the Ruddster, who already has the highest voter recognition of any new ALP leader since Hawke, is fanciful.

http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/12/14/the-great-moving-right-show/#comment-238460

cs on the opinion polls just over three years ago after Latho took over:

http://backpagesblog.com/weblog/archives/000158.html

“Bye bye Johnny”, says cs.

Look, cs, I know that you know and like Rudd. But the way that you write as if you’ll brook no disagreement with your assertions that he’s the brilliance, as I was saying at LP, is very offputting. Are we going to get inspirational little comments urging us to “get behind the team” from here til the next election from you? It seems to me that you’re not engaging in political analysis, but cheerleading. That’s fine if it gives you your jollies, but you could lose the implication that everyone who disagrees with your rosey eyed scenario is an amateur or a fool.

Frankly, it’s making me like your boy less, because I can imagine him taking the same line.

Kimberella
14 years ago

I’m not up at sunrise, but, Don, to me he comes across as wooden and a bit nervous, or alternatively overly aggressive. But what would I know? I’m just a voter not a member of cs’ new Rudd cult.

cs
cs
14 years ago

There are themes aplenty. See Mr Denmore’s comment above. Every election sees opposing parties with contending themes. Ruddy will have themes.

Now, getting back to the (un)real world, first it is too early to make a professional call on Rudd’s chances, let alone proclaim him a ‘shoe-in’; second, Rudd will more than adequately take care of the pointy-heads (for those who have been reading his material, he already has); third, yes, television is the medium that defines the Australian public. Outshine Howard on tv (I don’t mean in the election ‘debate’ – I mean in conveying a full, safe, likeable personality), and you’re pretty well home these days. He may already be, but it’s far too early to tell. Have you ever watched him on Sunrise? That’s the key political text these days, as Amanda observes astutely.

Amanda
14 years ago

In my view — and obviously such impressions will differ from person to person — Rudd comes across much better in the relaxed Sunrise environment than the Lateline type scenario. Certain cadences, manner and tones of voice which have irked me about him over the years fade away and he’s a much more attractive character. Just IMHO.

He is not a shoe in because of the TV thing (or at all, obviously) but since a big theme of commentary is “how on Earth will he ever cut through to the ordinary punter?” I do think it is relevant. And the significance of it hasn’t been given due consideration, which was my original point.

cs
cs
14 years ago

Kim, my apologies for having a view. BTW, I don’t see the point of making frequent links to a polemical headline in a post that was about nothing but opinion polls. Are you turning into tim blair?

Kimberella
14 years ago

What I’m suggesting, cs, is that you have a track record of getting carried away with your enthusiasm. I saw it during the 04 campaign too. I’m not sure if you’re in the business of rallying the troops, or doing political commentary. The first certainly has its place, but you confuse the two with the tone that you take that implies, as I just said, that you’ll brook no disagreement. I have no problem at all with your having a view, it’d just be nice if the rest of us felt that we could disagree with that view without being told that we’re “amateurs” or that “no-one can teach Rudd to suck eggs”.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

CS – If making a good impression on tv is the only thing that matters then why is John Howard still PM?

Has anyone seen some research on this?

Kimberella
14 years ago

How did John Major win an election?

Kimberella
14 years ago

And if you look at the audience figures, the demographic under 35 is watching less and less tv, and markedly so the further you go down the age curve.

cs
cs
14 years ago

I am an enthusiastic guy, but the truth is that I was never enthusiastic about Latham personally, except when it appeared that he had a real chance of leading the ALP to knock-off Howard, and it is tim blair-like to keep suggesting otherwise. I have backed Rudd (over Crean, Latham and Beazley) in every single contest, and obviously still do re Howard. I am not into rallying the troops or political commentary. I’m just blogging, and I’m chipping in because I think most of the Rudd criticism I’ve read so far is a very, very long way off the mark. Sorry for being here.

Kimberella
14 years ago

As the headline says “if you can’t win the game then change the rules”.

You can dish it out, cs, but you can’t take it.

I make an argument and you compare me to Tim Blair. Whatevs, dude. I hope you’re right about Rudd, but you’ve said nothing to convince me, because every time anyone makes a point that’s sceptical, you just resort to hyperbole and petulance.

eg – “Sorry for being here.”

It’s not all about you.

What is blogging for? I thought it was meant to be about having a conversation?

cs
cs
14 years ago

Don, Howard is a master of the talk-back/tv link (this has been closely documented by Judith Brett – of course, Howard’s success is also to be read as Labor’s failure in this medium). Re TV and politics more generally, here is a mini-post on the subject.

Two proprietors account for more than 90 per cent of Australia’s daily metropolitan circulation, double the average degree of concentration in the developed world’s 18 established democracies. In the last 30 years of the 20th century, press circulation in these democracies fell on average by about 15 per cent as a proportion of the population, whereas in Australia the fall was 50 per cent. By contrast, about 99 per cent of Australians own at least one television, and on average they watch over 20 hours of programs a week, equal to about 36 per cent of their leisure time. (See Stuart Cunningham and Graeme Turner (eds), The Media and communications in Australia 2nd edition, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2006, pp. 98-100, 175).

A critical threshold in the significance of television in politics was crossed in the 1980s, although the antecedents are very deep and the process evolved slowly. “We are all TV stars

Kimberella
14 years ago

Bored now.

/channels Evil Willow.

It’s a tv reference, dudes :) I’m sure everyone will get it!

Mr Denmore
Mr Denmore
14 years ago

While Howard isn’t a charismatic performer on television, he does understand the importance of the message behind the message and how the words he says are interpreted differently by different constituencies.

What Howard excels at is saying one thing and communicating something entirely different, depending on how your radar are attuned. For instance, in his announcement of the citizenship test:

“This is not a negative discriminatory test, this is a test that affirms the desirability of more fully integrating newcomers into the mainstream of Australian society.”

Now that can mean what you want. But there is clearly enough in there to keep everyone from the mildly anxious to the most xenophobic ratbags happy.

Rudd needs to find his own style of communication. But whatever their style, the first rule for anyone who wants to get a message across effectively in the media is to say it simply, concisely and consistently.

As I said in the post above, Rudd’s best course is to do what he is doing now: Use every media opportunity to contrast Howard’s rhetoric with the reality that most people experience everyday in their lives.

“Relaxed and comfortable?” Stressed and overworked
Mateship and the fair go? Dog-eat-dog
Security? Fear and insecurity

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
14 years ago

There’s obviously some interpersonal tension going on here. But do you think we could manage to suppress it in the interest of a fascinating and civil discussion??

Kimberella
14 years ago

Happy to, Ken. I just find cs’ dismissal of people who disagree with him impairs the conversation.

Back on topic, the hypothesis about television is monocausal and reductive. How would you possibly measure it? Clearly being good on tv is an advantage, but it’s not the be all and end all of campaigns.

On Amanda’s point.

In my view —

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

CS – I’ve got a yellow sticky on page 45 too. I’ve also got one on page 100 where Watson talks about the importance of storytelling.

I’m not sure how far you can go with Baudrillard’s idea that “people’s experience of their own lives is increasingly discounted in favour of television’s definition of what is (hyper)real”.

It might work for the war in Iraq but it won’t work for interest rates. If you’ve got a huge mortgage and rates hit 17% television isn’t going to make it less painful. I’ve seen empirical research showing that media effects depend on the nature of the issue.

cs
cs
14 years ago

I would agree with your last point Don, but it is very difficult to figure out what makes the difference. I also agree with Mr Denmore. The challenge is to break though the mask to pull through people’s real experiences, yet the kicker is that this also has to be done in the masking agent’s own terms. The ACTU adverts were an excellent example of how this can be done, but the challenge is formidable. Rudd may have already picked the lock.

Vee
Vee
14 years ago

I think the alleged “left” leaning voter is the minority anyway so whether they’re scared away or not is irrelevant and if they go to the Greens, its not that good anyhow as you can agree with the Greens but when they’re criticised and asked to convey their intentions, they cannot get a coherent message across. See their stuff up on drugs. They wont recover from that for at least the next two elections. Other than that you’ve only got the rusted on greens, etc. Its a minor party of no great concern.

Rudd is new, so that now makes Howard, the Beazley of politics and he’s making progress on becoming a Keating too. Howard hasn’t had a new idea or a vision since IR, the only thing that he has brought up is the nuke debate and a few defensive moves on IR and Interest Rates.

Labor has it all over the Liberals in the vision stakes.

Not to shout out mantras or anything but Oppositions don’t win government, Government’s lose them. The majority of people don’t vote for a particular government based on their policies, they vote against the government’s actions. Most ppl don’t even know what party has a policy on what, so when someone says its been our policy for 30 years or whatever, it is totally irrelevant to the electorate.

So how does that fit in with the greens and drugs – it was a media beat up that worked. Just like the birthday cake interview. Admittedly there was more substance to the latter.

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

Quick thoughts.

People who saw in Beazley the best chance to find Howard ousted would no doubt be feeling his absence just now. That’s quite a space to fill. To look then at the very different Rudd jazzing around the place, and not find from him clear definitive statements to assuage that loss, win them over, and generally account for a massive change, perhaps is cause to find criticism in him. Maybe we should remember the media is not placed at this time to wish for a layout of the Labor agenda: their readers are not engaged, not seeking it, and it would come across as a bit manic and pressuring. All you’re going to get is a snippet as an obligatory update, and that’s going to be something of a sensationalist snippet lest the whole thing bore readers witless. That’s not an environment for Rudd to allay the concerns of those who preferred Beazley.

For others who saw in Beazley another electoral loss, that sensitivity isn’t there. Instead, there is perhaps a tendency to be sensitive towards hope. It would be frustrating to have valid personal reason to hope, and not find it obvious in others’ views.

But gee whizz this so early, so out of season, politically.

We really do just have to wait until next year when Rudd must lay out his agenda, at least in part, and then watch how he develops personally and on policy, his teammanship, his attacks, gaffes and how he handles the low blows from the charming folk opposing, and what sort of coverage he gets.

Meanwhile, Rudd has opened the door to a developed conversation regarding ways of gaining ground; regardless of the out of season ability for Rudd and indeed flaws he himself may have, there’s good food for thought already.

Rob
Rob
14 years ago

I think the vision thing is often overstated. I can’t see the electorate ever again voting in a Whitlam, who was in any case the particular child of his peculiar times. In government they respect stability and effective and reliable management of public policy. At election time they want someone they’re prepared to accept as a national leader, which also depends on the climate of the times.

Good government is about good administration, not changing the world. I’d say Rudd’s challenge is to convince the electorate he will be a better administrator than Howard. Mr D at #12 is on the money.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

FWIW, I thought Sinclair Davidson’s lengthy and chapter and verse demolition of Rudd’s reading (aka McKnight’s take) of Hayek was a superb piece of work, having taught a postgrad pol econ seminar including a close reading of The Constitution of Liberty, which as Sincs rightly says, is the key text. Rudd’s adventures into political philosophy were amateur hour stuff. No doubt cs will come along and damn me for not recognising Rudd as the Philosopher King that he is, but I have an old fashioned view that if you’re going to write about a political thinker, you should write about what they actually wrote not a derivative caricature.

Just sayin…

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

The Davidson piece was in the Fin Review today, I should have said…

Peter Fuller
14 years ago

My take on this is that the planets may be beginning to align for KR. Brian Costar (approx.1997,’98, iirc) said of Jeff Kennett that his support was thousands of kilometres wide and three centimetres deep. I think that may prove a summary of Howard’s situation. His dominance of the political scene is grossly exaggerated by the MSM, and has been significantly enhanced by Labor’s perceived weakness. Rudd is clearly a stronger adversary than Latham was (less damaged, won the leadership more decisively etc.), as he is stronger than Crean or post-2001 Beazley. It’s also true that the Howard administration is more vulnerable than in 2004 – more obviously long-in-the-tooth, Iraq at best no longer a positive for the Liberals, particularly when seen in conjunction with AWB, interest rates rising and tarnishing the Government’s version of its economic managment mastery and IR issues.
Rudd clearly has to develop a plausible story about how/why Labor will be better. There’s plenty of ways Labor can stuff up over the next ten months, but it’s also quite conceivable that irresistible momentum will develop to erode Howard’s three centimetres deep support.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

Good points, Peter. I suspect that these days support for any long term government and PM/Premier is about 3 centimetres deep. Beattie would have lost despite his huge majority given a good opposition. But a lot of it is disengagement with politics generally, and thus the soft support for a government is often mirrored by soft enthusiasm for an opposition, which makes incumbency an enormous advantage unless you’re really at the top of your game.

cs
cs
14 years ago

I have never said that Rudd is a “Philosopher King’, and think the very idea of describing Rudd as such entirely preposterous. He was a shadow minister for foreign affairs when he spoke to the CIS, and is now the alternative pm, which is the old fashioned view about how to judge a politician. Hayek is a venerable academic feast, as I would imagine Davidson perpetuates in his Hayek Article No. Two Million in the AFR. Rudd’s address to the CIS was not a PhD, nor some obscure augumentation to David McKnight’s cv, let alone lecture in Pol Sci 101. On the contrary, it was a neatly and appropriately targeted address, the burden of which was to highlight contradictions between the free-market and other ostensible values held by conservatives and social democrats. Who cares if he is derivative, if indeed anyone who writes about Hayek isn’t? What matters is that he strikes, politically. He did. That’s the point.

Mark Bahnisch
14 years ago

His reading of Hayek is sloppy, derivative and often erroneous. If he wants to make a political point, he could make it without some attempt to demonstrate his intellectual credentials to Robert Manne and the Monthly readers.

Davidson demonstrated with reference to both Hayek and Rudd’s texts that Rudd was wrong. End of story.