Serving your political constituents by serving your own political interests

My PhotoAs 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 Keneally[‘s Premiership] 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.

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Tel
Tel
10 years ago

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.

Agreed!

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.

Agreed again! This would be of great service to the citizens.

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. . . .

But they are transparent… everything they do eventually ends up explained to the voters in detail by ICAC. Trust me though, the people of NSW can see right through this current lot, just like glass.

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. . . .

You would think at very least they could sort out who is in charge of what. Take gay marriage for instance, I have no personal problem with any sort of people getting married for any sort of reason (providing they are old enough to consent). However, it really should not be a federal issue. The correct answer for any federal member to the question of gay marriage is, “Talk to your state government, I have enough to deal with thank you.”

Pricing mining royalties should also be a state issue, if the Feds could just learn to keep hands off a few things long enough the states could get on and get themselves sorted.

Tel
Tel
10 years ago

My general point about the feds not meddling is they should not be allowed to redistribute the income.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
10 years ago

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)

Correct me if I am wrong here, but the inference is that Keating was ever considered Australia’s great post war politician. I have never understood how Keating was able to con so many people that he, Keating, was the star, rather than Hawke. I mean come on, here is a man who basically dismantled the trade union movement, largely with their permission. Only Hawkey could have done that. And without the Accord, god knows how long the stagflation would have lasted. It was Hawke who able to sell all the Neoliberal reforms and keep getting re-elected. It was Hawke who had the political nous to ‘know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em’ hence his knocking back Keating’s policy holy grail; a GST.

There is no doubt that Keating was brilliant as Treasurer, but a really bad Prime Minister, who historians are odds-on likely to credit the collapse of the ALP. Yes, the ALP will still win elections, but in a way, and with policies, which bear no resemblance to Labor traditions and ideology. If Labor can resurrect itself free of the stench of Keating’s Prime Ministership, the votes might start coming back.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
10 years ago

The correct answer for any federal member to the question of gay marriage is, “Talk to your state government, I have enough to deal with thank you.”

Actually, the correct answer is that Labor grow a pair, and legislate for civil unions during the next sitting of Parliament. It shows just how out of touch these people are with their constituents if they really believe this is an electoral time-bomb.

SJ
SJ
10 years ago

The NSW ALP is permanently dead. They had a workable strategy for a while, pushing the Libs further and further to the right, so that the Libs were unelectable.

Unfortunately, they thought that the electorate would excuse any kind of incompetence and corruption, which was actually true for a while. They realised they were in trouble, so tried going even further to the right, and the electorate said “enough – you assholes are finished”.

Fortunately, in Australia, unlike in the US, third parties are viable. So the Greens will take over from Labor. We aren’t condemned to permanently having two right wing asshole parties.

FDB
FDB
10 years ago

We aren’t condemned to permanently having two right wing asshole parties.

Yes, we are.

dewalt
dewalt
10 years ago

I’ll trump nic’s bet by offering a 2:1 on any amount, even up to 100k.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I will join in the get-rich-quick carnival, too, if I may.