Latest polling a blow for labor: a bit of stray punditry

When I think of the latest polls I think of Gough Whitlam polishing off Billy Sneddon, Paul Keating seeing off Alexander Downer. If only they’d eased up a little their own political fortunes might have been a little better.

If I were advising Kevin Rudd I’d have suggested he make a few mistakes – let John Howard give him at least a bit of a wedgie here and there – give the Libs a sniff of the chase (with apologies for unpleasant wedgie imagery). Now I don’t know if John Howard is a rational man, or how rational he is. But it seems pretty clear that he’s got about as much chance of winning the coming election as Paul Keating had of winning the 1996 election.

So he has a choice between resigning now – a little late, and if the Libs lose still being able to say that he did the right thing, and hanging on and losing badly. And then in the words of someone a little more flamboyant than John Winston Howard, “apres moi, le deluge“. History will not be kind, about his whole reign but accounts will note the last six farcical months in which the policy cupboard has been barer than I can ever recall, displaced wholly by the alarms and excursions of a total dedication to political tactics, no matter how much they sacrifice the principles of good policy to the demands of the news cycle.

So, assuming there is a basic sanity there, the PM will be thinking right now of how and when to tidy up the shop, and hand over to his trusty deputy. Of course various media people who were sent, as Lady Bracknell says of statistics, for our guidance, have made it quite clear that it is all too late. Well maybe, but I seriously doubt it. I’d be surprised if Peter Costello was all that much chop as PM – both in terms of his political and policy success – but you never know. Virtually all the PM’s in my lifetime have turned out very differently to what people expected before they got the job.

What I do feel more confident of is that the ‘honeymoon’ effect is routinely underestimated, that Costello would enjoy a strong surge of support and then – eh hem, deep punditry coming up – that would become the story! Given that voters main motive at present seems to be that they’ve had enough of John Howard, there could be a strong bandwagon effect driven by the relief at not having to vote Labor.

Whether that’s enough to rescue the Libs from the situation in which they now find themselves, is anyone’s guess, but it is becoming sufficiently obvious that even a few of the pundits are picking it up. I guess if it happens we’ll be treated to columns from people who said it was too late, that explain how it was all inevitable.

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Ken Lovell
14 years ago

So, assuming there is a basic sanity there, the PM will be thinking right now of how and when to tidy up the shop, and hand over to his trusty deputy.

Well substituting ‘rationality’ for ‘sanity’, which I think is a more appropriate expression, I’d say that’s an assumption for which there’s little evidence.

zoot
zoot
14 years ago

Does Tip have enough ticker to take the job? I’ve heard a few people suggest Downer as the Great Helmsman’s successor,and a sacrificial lamb seems a sensible way to go. But who is going to evict Hyacinth from Kirribilli House?

Shane Easson
Shane Easson
14 years ago

The election with Howard as Lib leader has been over for some time. In my view since before Rudd became Labor leader.I would have supported Beazley in December 2006.I was very hesistant to support a change based on the ‘times up’ syndrome ( necessary but not sufficient) plus the fact that Beazley was a safe,talented, far ahead in the polls and deserving alternative.Given the Latham experiment, I couldn’t accept the idea that once again we should contemplate embracing an alternative leader without a couple of decades in the public eye and at least some years of Cabinet Office.
Well, I was wrong. Rudd overcame the experience (read credibility) test,with the added advantage of being fresh and safe.He has taken Labor’s support to another level far above either Gough or Hawke at their zenith and not seen since the days of John Curtin in WWII.
Governments change in Australia ( when there’s not a world crisis) when both the Government is aging and the Opposition ( read Opposition Leader) is seen to be credible.
I feel very sorry for Costello. Were I the Libs I’d still make the change but it’s much too late to attain a smooth transition.
When the history is written the relevant date will be 1966!
In 1961, at 67 and after 12 years as PM, Menzies squeaked through against the then 65 yo Arthur Calwell.In 1963 Menzies was 69 ,Calwell 67. Labor’s Deputy Leader Gough Whitlam begged Calwell to retire after the 1964 Senate election when he was 68 and Menzies 70. Calwell refused and lead Labor into its worst ever defeat in December,1966 against Harold Holt who having served as Deputy Liberal Leader for 10 years and Treasurer for 8 ( sound familiar?) had finally replaced Menzies in January 1966.
Gough had argued whoever made the transition first would have the advantage. He was right. A transition from Calwell to Whitlam might have worked in 1965.
Costello’s chances of best revitalising the Coalition was in mid 2006. He is a much diminished figure now.

Sacha
14 years ago

History will not be kind, about his whole reign but accounts will note the last six farcical months in which the policy cupboard has been barer than I can ever recall, displaced wholly by the alarms and excursions of a total dedication to political tactics, no matter how much they sacrifice the principles of good policy to the demands of the news cycle.

Good description of the Howard govt since the start of the year, Nicholas.

If Howard resigns just before an election, it would look terrible for the Coalition, and the new leader (whomever that would be) would have at most 2.5 months to make an impression. Janet Albrechtson’s reflection on the improvement in the UK Labour Party’s position since Brown took over isn’t instantly translatable to Australia, not the least because Blair had been unpopular for a number of years before Brown took over and an election isn’t due there until 2010.

CK
CK
14 years ago

If Howard resigns just before an election, it would look terrible for the Coalition, and the new leader (whomever that would be) would have at most 2.5 months to make an impression. Janet Albrechtsons reflection on the improvement in the UK Labour Partys position since Brown took over isnt instantly translatable to Australia, not the least because Blair had been unpopular for a number of years before Brown took over and an election isnt due there until 2010.

Oh quite. This mob are gone for all money. They’re stuck with JHo and that’s the end of it.

I can’t quite wait until election night when we get the genius of Alexander Downer (one of the government’s top-notch, first-class, experienced ministers) spouting froth and bubble like ‘Well of course it seems Mr Rudd has won the election, but he shouldn’t be too cocky. We’ve still retained 50 seats and it gives us a good base to build from…’

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

Good thoughts, Nicholas. The bit about advising Rudd to make a few mistakes shows a fair attitude, yet the press on it would be abominable and the aim would not be achieved in the distant suburbs of the disinterested masses. Rudd is playing this well and mistake free must be top of mind for him to remain in chance.

There is still time for Howard to resign. While the act of desperation would be noted, this would I believe be overshadowed by the rush of coverage serenading the ‘gutsy suburban solicitor’ (as the press tend to hark way back at times like that), and the drastically altered conversation with Costello or whomever in the hot seat. There would be too many scenarios to cover, in the interests of the country, for a changeover to be locked on the desperation angle. And Howard could manufacture the line to ride over all of that, too, with a few simple phrases capturing the focus.

Obviously Howard is wanting the campaign itself, once the date is called, to serve a similar function as that of a changeover, by altering focus and the narrative overall. That will happen as it always does, but Howard hasn’t got it yet that his words have grown hollow and the areas of the public mind he’s wishing to sway have grown weary of constantly been drawn upon. That altered focus may well settle more solidly on Rudd, and the narrative could in fact tend to disaster from the current mere landslide position. The campaign proper is not a cert for closing the gap at all, being equally high risk as it is known territory for him.

The secondary point of change Howard is banking on is the effect of negative and attack advertising. But this, too, can now be brought into question. The way the Libs are going, they could very well be misreading the line to take and we may see ads that miss the mark horribly and end up heaping disgust on the wrong target party. They may, simply, be godawful terrible ads and show the LNP unfit to govern.

What has been remarkable, too, these last near twelve months or so, is watching Howard pick fights in areas he simply didn’t need to, and continuing with a known tactically fraught tendency to go too far. Perhaps he regards that as showing leadership, but it’s done him no favours, has been shoddy and urgent, and the indications are that he’ll ramp this up come the campaign. It belies belief, yet Howard is showing every evidence of botching it hopelessly.

‘OPEC’ was always going to be the seminal point for this year’s electioneering, and many months ago we discussed the possibilities that it would not go well for Howard, what with Mr Bush being here and showing his buddiness and alignment to Howard, lassooing Howard into Bush’s gross ineptitude. Hard to know what the punters think, but it’s a fair guess Howard has not benefited as he’d hoped. Rudd, contrastingly, has in a few deft strokes painted himself into the Prime Ministerial frame.

It’s hard for us who wish Howard gone no matter what, to now wish him to stay. It’s not so much about watching him suffer as it is about having him here for the ballot and finding out exactly where the nation is with him. Has the public woken up, finally? Is the public sick of the negative, fear monger, dodgy style? I’m sure these are the sorts of answers many who dislike Howard’s way are now wanting to discover.

Not only is this an election about what Australia is to be, it is just as much about what it has become. A more definitive take on that would be welcome.

observa
observa
14 years ago

The polls are showing annihilation for the Govt and as such the Libs now have nothing to lose by changing leader and everything to gain. Those same polls show Howard will most likely lose Bennelong, so why wouldn’t they tap Howard on the shoulder now? He must know the game is up and would retire with appropriate aplomb, leaving the electorate to turn their attention to assessing a Costello led alternative. It would certainly distract attention away from Rudd for some time and make the swingers’ choice more difficult than it appears now. The electorate now expects the Govt to lose and would not blame Costello for the loss anyway. Damage control is now an imperative with a party facing wall to wall Labor in power. A proverbial drovers dog couldn’t do worse. As long as my party needs me is the key here.

observa
observa
14 years ago

OTOH perhaps the Govt members take the view that losing with Howard will give them the opportunity to wipe the slate claen and quickly remake themselves in Opposition. Costello might figure that’s impossible as new leader now. That view might have some merit considering say Workchoices, Iraq and GW as their weak points now. It would be hard for Costello to distance himself from those current stances as caretaker PM in the runup to an election.

observa
observa
14 years ago

Actually Labor might not be as strong on GW where it really counts according to this report
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22313530-5007133,00.html

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

Virtually all the PMs in my lifetime have turned out very differently to what people expected before they got the job.

Howard: He was always a mendacious and divisive little turd and that’s how his prime ministership turned out: exactly as I expected. How do you think he was different to his 1986 anti-asian immigration persona for example?

observa
observa
14 years ago

Tampa was the obvious face of a growing problem of economic country shopping which Europe is facing up to in the same way. Do you really think a Rudd Labor Govt would have reacted much differently when they started hijacking container ships? I guess we’ll all see when they test the warm fuzzy credentials of Labor, as I’m sure they will. More metooism I’ll warrant.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

Nicholas – Tampa was perfectly within character for the man (the big surprise was Beazley rolling over like a harpooned whale). You have a point about the culture warrior thing though, although the biggest surprise is that it was a successful strategy in a country I assumed had matured beyond racist string pulling and culstural cringes over education. While Howard never surprises in the depths he will plumb, the endless suprise for me was that it was effective for any period of time. Who new Australians were still such bed wetters?

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

I think this is where Rudd and Howard are similar. Howard rode on the back of the anti-Keating swell with a smidgen of policy detail out in the suburbs and was not publicly scrutinised – the latter point being the key. There was a rough idea about him but most of those ideas were about his political journey and fatedness rather than what he actually stood for. Rudd is known far less. Yet Rudd appears very much to have the same deep drivers: he’ll be an edifying test of Nick’s point that PMs in office turning out very differently from what people expected before they got the job.

If in government, I think we’ll see some very tough decisions from Rudd. I also think there’ll be some gems in there, which will do the nation proud. His team, though, may have a tough time of it once settled in, due to Rudd’s unproven and therefore questionable team leadership skills. It appears it will be Rudd’s visions enacted, and not necessarily Labor’s. And my guess would be that Rudd will be divisive, not so much through going low as Howard does, but through hardline manner and newness to wielding power. It will not be a smooth ride with Rudd PM, as suggested by appearances now.

The culture wars were clearly unseen by the public forecast re Howard. And if there were areas where Howard has governed with conviction and vision, apart from a couple of publicly spectacular ones, these areas were in the main, I’d contend, hidden. Howard’s decimation of national institutions has been his defining ‘achievements’, and the manic constant need to infiltrate further and further into whatever he can, and where he can: rebuild them or replace them with his own interests ahead of the country’s. Howard’s vision was perverse and unforeseen in that respect, if the assumption that what he thought was good for him (and to an extent the Libs, though he trashed much of their institution as well), was good for the country.

My observation of Rudd is that he has a far greater understanding of what is good for the country, and will make some fascinating changes with confidence that he can pick up his own electoral pieces after they’ve been proven. In that assessment, where he’ll come a cropper is not so much the changes (unless they fail or take too long), but the way he will go about them – it’s not hard to imagine a “that’s the way it is going to be” dictatorial Prime Ministerial answer from Rudd when questioned on them. I think he’ll piss a lot of people off once those things come through, again, if that assessment proves accurate.

So Rudd, the tintin smiley of today will I believe prove divisive in a different way, and will be an agent of change: two very different things from what he’ll be elected on. The general commentary is that Rudd is conservative, but he’s a wolf in sheeps clothing in many ways.

Regarding advertising, what hasn’t been discussed much are Labor ads; to imagine ads showing the LNP spend on their own advertisements over the term could cut to the heart of any economic credibility the LNP is seeking. Such an ad carries other messages, too: arrogant, abusing accountability, big spending, out of touch, drunk on power, non-battler, self-serving.. all killer punches for a long term govt.

Bert
Bert
14 years ago

Robert I think you are on the ball here

Howards decimation of national institutions has been his defining achievements, and the manic constant need to infiltrate further and further into whatever he can, and where he can: rebuild them or replace them with his own interests ahead of the countrys. Howards vision was perverse and unforeseen in that respect, if the assumption that what he thought was good for him (and to an extent the Libs, though he trashed much of their institution as well), was good for the country.”

Howard’s politicisation of the public service, his blaming of the Public Service formhis “lack of information” e.g.. AWA, Children Overboard and his abuse of power e.g Tampa and the intervention into Aboriginal Affairs, mark him as one of the most dangerous people ever to have “served” as Prime Minister. His negative mark on Australia in terms not only of of our national image but of our national institutions will be immense. I think his was a defining moment in the position of the Public Service in Australia. The present crop of Public Servants are anything but public servants. They know only one master and that is the government. The idea of them serving the public has long fallen by the wayside. I do not know if the Public Service as we knew it can ever recover.
One other thing about the Howard administration has been the complete humiliation of the Backbench. The projected rout of the government, if it happens, will be a good thing in that it will rid us of an abjectly compliant set of Backbenchers. A few have, to their credit, challenged Howard from time to time but his ability to push through abhorrent legislation and policies reflects badly on the members who have served on the Backbench during his Prime Ministership. They were elected to serve the “people” and instead served John Howard and themselves. They deserve their fate. Long may it accompany them.

Sacha
14 years ago

Re Robert’s commetn. I fairly much expect that PM Rudd will be a reformer.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

Howard isn’t gone yet. I won’t be making any prognostications about Rudd until I see Howard and Downer in tearful hysterics, finger pointing at an ungrateful public that rejected a self serving conservatism that threatened the very fabric of Australian life. Until then, all bets are off. I still reckon there’s rabbits yet to be pulled from hats, although they may well be horrifying, boiled rabbits, fatal attraction style.

Kevin Cox
Kevin Cox
14 years ago

Can I vote so that one party has a majority of seven and the minor parties control the senate? Can I also vote that the term is four years and there is a fixed date for the next election.