As readers may have noticed, I’m much of a one for the panto morality in which political leaders are urged to be ‘leaders’ at the expense of their own political viability. Yes, acts of political heroism occur. Some of them are even worthwhile, though they’re mostly of little consequence. It’s a bit like terrorists blowing themselves up. Not a great way to propagate what they’re trying to bring about. Sept 11 2001 was a great product launch for al-Qaeda, it’s first major gig on US soil. But what might twenty odd crazies dedicated enough to killing themselves have achieved in the way of additional murder and mayhem if they hadn’t killed themselves.
Anyway, no doubt they’re happy now in the presence of however many virgins they all get.
So my view is that if you want to fail, go into religion, not politics. What is of more interest, because it is of more consequence in politics, is where politicians have the imagination and the guts to find ways in which doing what is in the interests of their constituents is also in their own interest. That’s what being a great politician is about IMO. And by that standard Bob Hawke was Australia’s great post war politician and Paul Keating was not (except for his huge contribution to Hawke’s prime-ministership.
If you’re ever wondering about my own views on the way economics and politics fit together that’s how – as I tried to emphasise in this interview.
And why am I telling you all this. Because Robert Tiffen thinks the same way, and has written this great op ed urging Kristina Keneally to lose the next NSW election smart rather than dumb. Note his deft integration of political self-interest and the Greater Good. (Highlights beneath the fold).
Kristina Keneally1 is doomed . . . but she does have some choices about whether to lose smart or lose dumb. . . .
The epitome of losing dumb was Paul Keating in 1996. As Keating moved towards his widely anticipated defeat . . . there was much speculation about the real size of the budget deficit. Keating refused to make the figure public, probably feeling that any official acknowledgement of the size of the problem would tell against him in the polls. This was true, but overlooked that there are rarely any publicly palatable solutions to budget deficits – any easy ways to raise taxes or cut spending. So changing the budget parameters would have put pressure on Howard as well as himself.
Clumsily failing to acknowledge the size of the deficit might have meant Keating lost slightly fewer votes than otherwise, but it certainly made it much more difficult for Labor in opposition to win votes back. The public disclosure of the deficit was now in the hands of the new treasurer, Peter Costello, and he wrought maximum political leverage. The newly revealed deficit gave the Howard government a gold pass to break spending promises it had made, allowing it to do what otherwise would have been politically unpopular, and to blame Labor at the same time. . . .
The Keneally government knows it is facing defeat. Labor also knows that unless the new government does something spectacularly counter-productive, . . . it is probably facing at least eight years in opposition. . . .
Labor’s main aim in the next few months should be to publicly establish the criteria by which its successor will be judged. All oppositions wax lyrically about democratic processes, but the moment they taste executive power, they find all sorts of reasons to reduce external scrutiny. Losing smart means losing in a way that will make the incoming government more publicly accountable.
The first task is to avoid the Keating trap; to be as comprehensive and transparent as possible . . . . because this will make it more difficult for the opposition to be cavalier about what it promises. . . .
Second, . . . it is in Labor’s larger interest to make the Liberals publicly commit before the election to how they will respond to federal Labor policies. . . .
Third, Labor should seek guarantees to continue and strengthen the independent institutions that have improved the integrity of governance in this state. . . . It should also demonstrate its respect for parliamentary scrutiny, particularly parliamentary committees, despite possible short-term embarrassments. Executive arrogance now will rebound on it within a few months.
The medium-term interests of Labor coincide with improving the quality of democratic governance in NSW. . . . Given that this government’s traditional style of decision making in any novel situation is to ask itself what the Rum Corps would do, it is more likely that it will lose dumb.
- ‘s Premiership