Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Political Freeballing

Posted by Possum Comitatus on November 18, 2007

crikey1.jpg

This was me in Crikey the other day

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There are generally two types of politicians; those that do the Batman thing and wear their duds on the outside of their pants, and those that don’t.

But Rudd has invented a third type of politician – the political freeballer that wears no duds at all.

You cannot be wedgied if you have nothing for your opponent to grab hold of – and this has been the Rudd blueprint from day one of his leadership.

All of those wedgie issues that the Coalition deployed so successfully in the past against former Labor leaders, Batmobile drivers the lot, have been a dismal failure over the last 11 months.

The Haneef affair for Rudd, incorporating the twin wedgies of terrorism and swarthy looking foreigners, became an argument about the process, not about any intrinsic right or wrong of governments deporting such people. The tax policy wedge quickly came to nought as Rudd simply copied the fundamentals of government tax policy and tinkered around the edges to differentiate the brand. By keeping over 90% of the tax cuts outlined by the government, thus preventing any chance of Labor producing a document where the costings didn’t add up, removed from the playing field any chance for the government to wedge Labor between the desires of their broader party base and the economic management narrative of the government and its media supporters.

The schools hit list policy? Wedgie shields were up -the education spending initiatives by Rudd have deliberately set out to remove the possibility of the private vs. public education wedge gaining traction. By funding programs that are independent of the ownership of the school systems, from education expenditure rebates through to yesterday’s school computer and broadband funding initiatives that apply to all schools, that wedge became nothing but Coalition dreams of what might have been.

This political freeballing looks to be a key part of the broader political strategy of Labor that is being overlooked in the commentariat.

The commentary over the so called “me too” policy that Labor has been adopting misses the point. It’s not about minimising the differences as part of that other perennial media cliché… the “small target strategy”. Far from it – it’s one of the oldest political strategies in the book being deployed with a new twist; You agree with your opponent on those issues where to disagree would lose you net votes, and you disagree with your opponent in those areas where to do so will gain you net votes.

For the last 9 months or so, the focus has been on the areas of government policy which are popular. One of the primary benefits of incumbency is the ability influence the issues of the day that make up the news cycle, it’s why Sinodinos was so good.

So the point got missed, and the “me too” became the narrative simply as a result of the public face of the strategy having to deal with relatively popular government issues. The other part of this strategy in dealing with the popular government issues is where the political freeballing comes into it. Don’t disagree if it loses you votes; don’t be trapped into disagreeing by falling for wedges over those issues.

But now the campaign is in full swing, the other side of the strategy, the ‘accentuation of the differences‘ side of the strategy has become fairly obvious, and the “me too” cliche is left looking a little anaemic as a piece of decent political analysis, as it was always going to be.

Workchoices, Climate Change, Education and Healthcare – those are the policy issues of projected difference, those are the policy issues getting hammered home in the political advertising, those are the policy issues which get mentioned in every Labor interview and every Labor set piece.

Those are the issues that Howard is seen by a large part of the electorate to not be managing well, the areas where to disagree with Howard and to provide an alternative will only result in gaining net votes.

When you weave into that agreement/disagreement matrix the big non-policy issue that has come out in everyone’s polling – the “Howards been around for too long” factor, the strategy becomes complete, or rather completely obvious. The endless repetition of the “New Leadership” slogan reinforces the brand differentiation, but only in those areas where to do so delivers the electoral goods.

Rudd is refusing to be wedged, be is political freeballing because he’s refusing to be drawn into disagreeing with the government on policy areas where the government is popular. But don’t take that as a simple “me too” small target strategy approach as it misses the point. It’s about product differentiation, but only in the right places as far as the ALP is concerned.

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41 Responses to “Political Freeballing”

  1. kwoff.com said

    Political Freeballing « Possums Pollytics

    There are generally two types of politicians; those that do the Batman thing and wear their duds on the outside of their pants, and those that don’t.

    But Rudd has invented a third type of politician – the political freeballer that wears no duds at a…

  2. Aristotle said

    All his life John Howard has been looking for angles.  He constantly is on the lookout for ways to manipulate each and every situation to his advantage, that is his modus operandi.

    He is not blessed with much talent, so he has to make up for it by using rat-cunning.  He sees opportunities in situations that no-one else sees, and a guy like Costello wouldn’t have a hope in hell of dealing with him.

    The problem for Howard is that rat cunning can only work so far, and you have to eventually have some talent backing you up or you’ll be found out.

    His major cunning weapon has been the wedge, which he has used to most effectiveness against the lumbering Kim Beazley, who was an easy target for the scheming Howard.

    But the wedge is an easy trick to identify and combat, if you’ve got the street smarts to deal with it.

    Along comes Kevin Rudd. 

    He identifies Howard’s major weapon and is absolutely determined to spike Howard’s big gun.  He saw how wedge after wedge, sank Beazley, Crean and Latham, and made certain he was not going to give Howard the same opportunities, so he refused to be wedged.  On only two occasions was Howard able to develop an adequate wedge against Rudd and both of them were not originated by Rudd.  The first, McClelland’s death penalty speech; and the second, was Garrett’s Kyoto debacle, when Ulhman wedged him on radio.  Both times Rudd had to step in and blunt the wedge before Howard could get up and running on it.

    The union wedge, hasn’t really had much effect on Rudd, because he’s not a unionist, but Howard had no choice but to run with it, even though it’s pretty limp.

    Without his wedge, Howard is impotent, and worse for him, he is very vulnerable to the reverse wedge, which we are now seeing play out, and he doesn’t have any real talent to fall back on when he is in a crisis.  (There’s a reason he hasn’t won any of the debates with Keating, Beazley, Latham or Rudd: when the you open the cupboard – the cupboard is bare.)

    Rudd has out wedged the wedger.  By under-spending him at the policy launch, he took away Howard’s cloak of economic superiority, and worse for Howard, the only weapon he has to combat Rudd’s wedge is to say the economy’s survival is fully dependent on work choices, the policy that was the beginning of the end for the Howard Government.

    Look at what they are saying, “re-elect us because we’ll ensure that this policy you want to get rid of, will stay for good!”

    It’s a double wedge.  How fitting for the wedge-master himself to be skewered by his own tactic.

    And they all know it.  Look at the behaviour of Howard, Costello and Minchin, they know they’ve been done over and done over well.

    Those who live by the wedge – die by the wedge.  RIP JWH.

  3. tomd said

    Of course, it’s not exactly new. Beazley in 2001 tried to mimic the supposedly popular Hanson-esque anti-refugee polices of the Government, and differentiate with Knowledge Nation. The difference I think is that in 2001 those policies were too closely wedded to the Libs, so for people for whom they were a vote-winner, there was no reason to vote for the ALP, and for everyone else it looked like a sellout. There was the added bonus that there was nowhere for a protest vote to go for Liberal voters who wouldn’t consider voting Green, although a number of ALP supporters voted Green for the first time in that election as a result of the policy.

  4. disenfranchised Gippslander said

    Tomd, good analysis of 2001! reflects the experience of several of my nw Green friends.
    No such analysis of 2004 needed, since Latham wedged himself, easily done by a loose cannon!

  5. Lomandra said

    It is indeed a good analysis, tomd. I’m one of those who resigned from the Labor Party when Beazley capitulated with Howard on immigration/refugee issues and moved to the Greens. There’s little chance I’ll be voting anything other than (1) Greens and (2) Labor in the foreseeable future, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do the latter without as much bile rising in my gullet hereafter!

  6. Stephen T said

    Not to be a smart ars I remember weeks ago calling for steading of the ship while all the pundits were vacillating about Rudd’s performance. I for one thought Rudd’s tactic was nothing short of brilliant. If you go to the web sight he is committed to Kyoto and more importantly to the Millennium Project and this is not the sign of a man who is selling his heritage for power. Jeffery Sack’s is one of the most brilliant economists in the world (Monthly article in Scientific American) however you would be a fool to commit 7% or any other percentage of GDP to the Millennium Project in an election year. He and Gillard deserve our respect and admiration for running such a tight ship barring Garret’s big mouth.

    Rudd did not get wedged and yet, as I predicted with two weeks to go, he sent a killer shot across the bow. And damn it the Lib’s are still in shock. This will go down as one of the great election victories of all time because Rudd has rewritten the rules. Barry threw a little spaky on Insiders while Julia demonstrated just why she is Opposition Leader regardless of the sexism and blatant denigration. Kevin thinks that Insiders is less important than Rove. He just keeps on coming with the wedge. I mean Akerman, Bolt and their ilk cannot even understand empirical research and as such have no place in serious political debate. This is the twenty first century dolts.

    Political analysis after the event. What? The fact is Kevin showed us all how to do it. It will certainly shut up many of the critics as they reposition themselves with the words “I new all along he would do it. Brilliant! Get a life.

  7. Goodbye Mr Thatcher said

    Looks like the final attempted wedge will be on drugs and law and order – the Rodent as the man of zero-tolerance. Pathetic really!

  8. pre-dawn leftist said

    Outstanding performance by Julia Gillard on Insiders this morning. She is a tough smart cookie, well illustrated by her comment to Barrie Cassidy, who was pouting because Rudd thinks Rove is more important than him:

    “Barrie you can continue to act like a jilted lover, or we can get on with the interview”

    Dynamite! No wonder the rich old white blokes in the press don’t like her – shes way tougher and smarter than any of them.

  9. The Doctor said

    The other part of this, is that Labor & friends can say almost anything about the Liberal agenda for next term(if) because of the way WorkChoices was introduced.
    As a result, the Liberals seem to be spending half their interviews denying a secret IR agenda.

  10. Lenny Leverhulme said

    thanks possum for your article. i must say i enjoy reading the thoughtful comments here too.

    i was one of those disappoinmted by labour in 01 becuase of tampa etc and moved to the green left groupings, preferencing the alp. i’ll be doing that again this time with many reservations about rudd and his non-ideological, managerial style. we’ll see how they perform.

    one thing i will be looking forward to though is john’s concession speech on saturday night and the face on janette and the kiddies (the girls in howard’s office apparently call janette “mrs bucket” after hyacinth from “keeping up appearances”. rather apt i thought). i can see in the years ahead when i’m feeling a teensy bit blue i’ll simply get out the tape and replay that speech over and over again, bringing to me light where there is darkness!

  11. Kirribilli Removals said

    Have to agree, Rudd’s campaign has mostly been brilliant and he’s played the tired old rodent around the country, uphill and down marginals.

    Maybe a bit ‘indiscreet’, but hey, it’s time, as they say, for a little bit of Howard in the flesh:

    Go back a few years, Peacock and Howard in opposition. Imagine boardroom of very large Australian company, and the directors were sounding out the opposition on various policies. (They were the biggest private employers in Queensland at the time).

    Peacock excuses himself to go to the gents, and his deputy, the wily rodent leans across the table and tells the assembled board (including one ‘knight of industry’): “don’t worry about what Peacock says, if I’m leader I’ll cut you a better deal”.

    That sums up the character of our Dear Leader and about to be dead rodent. Of course it went down like the proverbial plumbic dirigible!

  12. John V K said

    Sounds about right KB, it’s his mark. His way or the highway.

    Look at the corpse trail behind him. Pretty impressive, the dead and the reparations and Im talking about his own people.
    Opportunist and pretty cutthroat, but at least once he would once listen and his political instincts were the best in the nation at one time.

    But who else was there? Costello, guffaw. On the other side Bomber nice guy but a bit of a waffler, Crean he was as popular as syphilis in the electorate, Latham that went well lol.

    Howard reflected the quality of his opponents.

  13. Kirribilli Removals said

    Ahem, it’s KR to you! Ha, ha!

    Initials to engrave on the door of the new Kirribili House! (OK, the Lodge then)

  14. Paul said

    There is no need to be surprised that Labor could not be wedged.The arrogance of Howard and his (born to rule) front bench did not allow them to even think that the Labor team could possibly be smarter. The so called experienced team have been out performed by the 70per cent front bench of Labor in every meeting.

  15. Bruce said

    There is a principle derived from economics known as Hotelling’s Law that explains why the the me-too strategy and why it has been so successful for Rudd.
    see:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotelling%27s_law

    The Wiki article even gives an example from two-party politics:
    ‘An extension of the principle into…election “markets” can explain the common complaint that…two [in this case American] political parties are “practically the same”…the undecided electorate resides in the middle of the political spectrum, and there is a tendency for the candidates to “rush for the middle” in order to appeal to this crucial bloc…the assumption is that people will choose the least distant option…and that the most votes can be had by being directly in the center.’

    Howard has moved to far from the centre with Work Choices. Throw in interest rates and the governments failure to deliver in a number of areas of concern to the electorate (education/Kyoto/aged care…) and you get enough reason for the electorate to consider the alternative. Rudd has eliminated the difference in areas whre Labor can potential be wedged – including say the pulp mill and logging old growth forests in Tasmania. Even if I feel strongly enough about these issues not to give Labor my first preference, I have to nominate who I prefer in order to have a vote that counts. Labor is the least worst option for the environment.

  16. The Finnigans said

    It is really very simple. After 2004 victory, Howard became arrogant and full of hubris. He decided to formally move the Liberal Party to the right. Eg: employment – Workchoice, education – teaching of history, Climate Change – by denial of Kyoto, Foreign policy – Iraq etc etc. The shift to the right or left does not need to be real, it has only to be an impression because that is all the punters can digest. In Australian politics, once you vacate the middle, you are gone. The genius of Rudd is that he saw the opportunity to occupy the middle and knows how to get there.

  17. Stephen T said

    Latest News:

    Banana republic on the way. Oh my God! We will all have to live in grass huts. Howard is just becoming unbelievable.

    No tolerance to drug users. I happened to have spent some years working in what is an extremely complex area. Lot of mental health, domestic violence and sexual abuse run parallel to drug abuse. Sexually abused women working in the sex industry and becoming addicts. This is the really mean, nasty, evil bastard that has been running this country for 11 years. Some of these guys attempt suicide on a regular basis due to pervasive hopelessness and furthermore some of them succeed. The idiot was in church this morning peddling his dictatorship to Koreans. He calls himself a Christian. Boy I was mad at this prick before but now I just detest him. I hope he and his cronies go down in a heap. What a hateful cynical horrible little man.

  18. Lomandra said

    I don’t know if this has been posted elsewhere on this site, but if you want to buy the custom-made John Howard piñata on eBay, you’d better hurry.

    http://cgi.ebay.com.au/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220171750001

    Eight bidders are fighting it out, and the bids have reached $500. What a hoot!

    I’m not bidding, but I sent a message of support to the seller.🙂

  19. John V K said

    Stephen that’s always been the problem. In anti PC the object is to mention the unmentionable and get people talking the issues thru, finding a commonsense values and money solution (it always has to come down to funding).

    But Howard only ever sees politics, if you give him a concept he politicises it (this is a form of self serving evil). People have to see issues warts and all and not ideologies, drug addicts are bad, is not a solution.

    Witholding the money so they can get some rent and food is not a bad thing, the counter argument that if you withhold money they will steal or prostitute themself is a bad argument (son I did this to my own brother at the agreement with my parents). Because unfortunately whether money is with held or not they will still steal or prostitute themself, the dole will not support a habit.

    Same as the aboriginal money the correct argument is not race, it’s everyone that is hurting their own families, or leave things as they are. We trialled it and it works.

  20. Kirribilli Removals said

    Stephen T, yes, that’s Howard’s modus operandi: crush the weak, the vulnerable, the victim, the powerless and turn them into a plinth for the little rodent to stand tall upon.

    Ugly little creature, isn’t he?

  21. thesilverbodgie said

    Not only time to call in the removalists at Kirribilli also time to call in the Pest eradicators to remove one very large and very tired Rodent,but before they do could someone arrange for poor old Peter to finally have his first and last look around.

  22. Ratsak said

    21. I do hope Kevin and Terese invite the Costellos around for a quiet dinner, just the four of them, the first night they end up spending at Kirribilli.

    Should crush what’s left of Tips tiny little heart.

  23. Ronin8317 said

    Howard is trying to insert the ‘Law and Order’ issue into the Federal Election as he is losing everywhere else. I cannot imagine seeing Kevin Rudd going on TV saying “I love drug addicts”, so it is grasping at straws.

    Family members of those with drug addicted are vulnerable and powerless, and I cannot imagine the dark heart required for a politician to further victimize them. Have they not suffered enough?

  24. ViggoP said

    Cassidy v Gillard is at http://www.abc.net.au/insiders/content/2007/s2093951.htm

    The worm would have purred.

  25. Enemy Combatant said

    “But Rudd has invented a third type of politician – the political freeballer that wears no duds at all.”

    Possum you realise that this left Pixie vulnerable to the Squirrel Grip! Far more deadly than the wedge. That’s where El Rodente f*cked up. He’s a reflex homophobe like Bill Heffernan, lock stock and barrelled in The Fifties and he hesitated to take the necessary action lest his mates reckon he was a poofter. Too late now.
    ———————————————————
    So pleasurable reading this post and ALL the comments, especially Ari’s. Six sleeps to E day with five days left on the campaign trail. Then ends eleven and a half years of fear and loathing. Maybe by the New Year a few million more of us will feel genuinely proud to call ourselves Australians again.

  26. davo said

    An interesting and disturbing fact about our seat based system:

    (Warning math lesson)

    Let’s say there are N seats, then it possible to win an election with N/2+1 seats.
    All a winning side need to have is a majority in these N/2+1 seats i.e. just over
    50% of the vote.
    So now lets say N=100, and each seat contains 10,000 electors.
    Therefore the winning party would need just 5001 votes in 100/2+1 seats i.e. 51.
    The remainder of the 49 seats could be theoretically be 100% for the other party!
    Therefore the winning party would have overall 5001×51=255,051 votes, and the losing party would have 10000×49+4999×51=744949 votes. Therefore the party that wins has 25.5% of the vote and the party that loses has 74.5% of the vote. Using advanced maths stuff it turns out that in a system like ours it theoretically possible for a party to win with just over 25% of the vote.

  27. Not only 'rat cunning' said

    Davo – though no one can hope for a Howard electoral demise more than me, and though I have my hopes of this raised, you capture the essence of my anxiety in your simple calculations.

    Yet, if his dominance comes to a halt next Saturday, and even if it doesn’t, I think we urgently need to explain how and why he has been able to achieve achieve it over 11 years. My guess is that many of us should find such an analysis discomforting to say the least. Going on about Howard’s ‘rat cunning’, though I am sure it is there, would be a terrible mistake if this ends up convincing us that there have been no greater and more enduring matters at stake.

    The last 11 years have been among the most dismal and disappointing experiences for a great many people in this country. Many fear that the consequences of Howard will be with us for a long time to come. Many argue that those who feel better off do not understand how badly comprised their rational expectations of “their” future welfare now are. My fear therefore is that a Rudd victory will only be a tactical defeat of Howardism. None or little of the rational kernel of (dare I suggest) core arguments against Howardism and the machinery of its support, will have been identified publicly or discussed and thus – challenged.

  28. Lenny Leverhulme said

    i just heard radio national and they were talking about the “undecided” voters still being capable of winning it for the coaltion.

    i know, possum, you’ve dismissed that but is at all remotely possible that if the, let’s say, 10% of voters still undecided voted en masse for howard that the coaltion might just squeak back in?

    i worry that these undecided people might in fact be unannounced coalition voters and that they really might vote en masse for the liberals.

    surely, if a voter hasn’t decided by now, after 11 years of this deplorable man and his deplorable government, doesn’t that mean they err towards the status quo?

  29. Troy C said

    Davo – true, but the seat boundaries are marked specifically to avoid that scenario where a party gets a minority of the popular vote but wins a majority of seats. ALP supporters, I notice a sort of lingering anxiety lurking beneath your confidence. A sort of: “What IF the polls are wrong?” Well, I think you ought to relax. 400,000 voters aren’t going to switch across to the government side in the last five days. On November 25, you’ll have your “President” Kevin Rudd. I watched him on Rove last night and I can see why he is ahead in the polls. He presents so much more natural and relaxed and sociable than JWH does. He is a very charismatic and witty presidentialist in a very presidential campaign. He was even wittier than Jerry Seinfeld was later in the same program. JWH’s only slim hope is that polls — even to this late hour — are nothing more than a “presidential” beauty contest and voting intentions are different. In other words, when the moment of truth in the ballot box arrives, unadventurous Australians waver and revert to the devil they know. But an intelligent source informed me yesterday that the undecideds tend to swing toward the preferred PM in the last days more than the electorate as a whole does. It’s going to be an interesting Saturday night. But my feeling is you’ll have your way and we’ll be ratifying Kyoto before you know it (and the Chinese will get on with the task of building their next coal-fired power station before you know it, too). Rudd’s narrow victory — and it will be narrow — will usher in a new, unstable era of Australian politics, where governments can be defeated during the good economic times. The era of stability we’ve had since Whitlam is now in its last days. Society is changing, once more.

  30. jasmine_Anadyr said

    So possum you don’t think the Governments negative blitz will bite? I’m wondering if giving it a week only and giving Rudd a week only might not be effective, shock and awe looked like it worked well in Iraq for about a week, just long enough if you are Howard. The fact is leaves you with no plan doesn’t matter while the shock lasts? Saw the adds last night, rarely watch TV but they scared me?

  31. Diana said

    There’s a good interview with Rudd by Lenore Taylor in today’s AFR, he gives answers to some of the questions that have been raised on this blog like will there be changes in the top level positions in the public service. And no, I’m not on the ALP payroll! I am a member of the Lenore Taylor fan club though.

    http://www.afr.com/home/viewer.aspx?EDP://20071119000019978040&magsection=news-breaking&portal=_home&title=Rudd+flags+fast-paced+reform+push&source=/_xmlfeeds/news/feed.xml

  32. Trubbel at Mill said

    Liberal attack-letterboxing here in Ryan over the weekend. They must be having a massive spend on printing and distribution. My perception is that the vast bulk of their rubbish is going through the junk mail distributors – they have a lack of true believers to get out and work for them!

    Michael Johnson has taken to using mannequins dressed up as supporters!! LOL!

    Did I mention the ubertool was also caught speeding through a school zone last week, and abused the police who caught him? “Vote Liberal to stop local hoons!!” Excuse me? What if our local hoon endangering children is the Liberal member?
    LOL!

  33. Bruce said

    Yes Aristotle,

    You’re basically saying the emporer (JWH) has no clothes. But it’s downright un-Australian for anyone to suggest that the emporer has no clothes!

  34. Nathan said

    Hilarious Aristotle, love the writing style mate lol

  35. Grumps said

    Poss,

    Excellent analysis of the wedgie. Obviously Rudd wears board shorts (more akin to the geek image) when he goes swiming as opposed to budgie smugglers and there propencity to “wedge”.

    As we enter the final stretch I note the complete lack of political “how to vote” mail outs in the safe seat of Gellibrand. This is unusal. Normally we have recieved at least two form letters from labor and one from the liberal’s. Not a susage. Even local rags have not carried photo’s or polly prepared fluff articales in their pages.

    Also note the change of marketing which has removed the Rodent from front, center and any mention in party literature. Saw party worker’s at Nudawading (Deakin) handing out Liberal disinformation to commuters, with not one photo of the Rodent and posters just showing “L” of party. About 15 posters in total, “L” only on T shirts of party workers, about 6.

    Topped now with direct mail out from the wife of a politician (C. Pyne) and individualisation of positive adds with in trouble local liberal memebers, the Rodent must be ready to be stuffed and mounted (KR please note new occupiers of KH may wish to keep for ornamate for garage).

    All avaliable cash for both sides must be directed at the winnable or must retain.

    It will be an interesting few days until the blackout. How shrill will the Rodent become.🙂

  36. Big Tofu said

    Could it be the rats are getting set to abandon the sinking ship? This morning Turnbull’s reported as criticising the Prime Minister’s electioneering, and insists he hasn’t “written the election off”, then Mark Vaille comes out *denying* a Coalition split, despite the news that some frontbenchers (!) have come out criticising Abbott and Turnbull’s campaigns.

    The knives are out, the mud is being thrown. This really is too delicious!

  37. Bruce said

    Big Tofu,

    “Could it be the rats are getting set to abandon the sinking ship? This morning Turnbull’s reported as criticising the Prime Minister’s electioneering, and insists he hasn’t “written the election off”, then Mark Vaille comes out *denying* a Coalition split, despite the news that some frontbenchers (!) have come out criticising Abbott and Turnbull’s campaigns.

    The knives are out, the mud is being thrown. This really is too delicious!”

    That is exactly what Possum predicted was the big danger for the Coalition:
    https://possumcomitatus.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/the-final-countdown/

  38. Rod said

    For what it is worth here are my own thoughts on why Howello have lost this election:

    Three things:

    1) Over time, parties in government suffer “cumulative damage”. There are things over time that some people simply feel they can’t forgive, and they add up.

    In Howard’s case there have been a few at just about every election – getting lied to about “Children overboard” and Iraq and the like , the ramping up of racial and cultural tension, the sycophancy with the US, the wheat board scandal, and, in this election, the absence of any meaningful response to climate change and the perception of broken promises about interest rates. Most people might not change their individual voting decision over any one of them, but some will, and they become part of “the vibe” around the local watercooler and on talkback radio. Ultimately the tarnish builds up to a point where, unless a party is genuinely able to “reinvent” itself, through a leadership change or some such, it starts to smell and that 20% of people who aren’t wedded to one side or the other start looking elsewhere. If the other mob aren’t obviously on the nose, then they change their vote.

    2) Parties get arrogant and tired. They start assuming they are the “natural party of government”, start taking short cuts, get caught out.

    3) The Libs/ Conservatives never do well when there are real clouds on the horizon in Australia. WW1, the Depression, WW2, the major changes across the world during the late 60’s and early 70’s all lead to the election of Labor governments when the threat became obvious. Hawke/ Keating were elected when the world economic pressures that had confronted the world from the early 70’s ultimately looked to be beyond the abilities of the Fraser/ Howard government. Howard/Costello were put back in when things were back under control.

    Today environmental (and geopolitical) issues loom over all of us. Labor is generally seen (quite accurately) as possessing better intellectual credibility and greater toughness when such things arise. Costello, for example, would never have had the guts to give us “the recession we had to have” in the face of opposition from Howard. Keating did, in the face of Hawke, though I personally hated him for it at the time. Ultimately Keating’s correct decisions gave Howard/Costello a free ride for an extended period.

    The ride is over. The world faces different problems today. Howard and Costello are still playing as if the essential “issue” is the resentment that people felt about the the hard decisions that Keating made. Neither of them show the slightest sign of being able to rise to the current set of challenges.

    They have no idea about how to reposition Australia in a world in which the US is losing its status as the world’s dominant economic power. They have no idea how to deal with the massive environmental issues.

    They have no idea about how to “place” Australia in terms of the big geopolitical issues beyond simple endorsement of the “Bush doctrine”.

    They also have no idea about how “middle” and “poorer than middle” Australia are paying for the growing wealth of Australia’s “top dogs”, and how much most Australians resent huge pay rises for execs and the like while most Australians are facing a situation where wages don’t keep up with the real cost of living and the level of decent public service in areas like health and education goes down the proverbial dunny.

    It is all very well running a “fear campaign” (and they have done precious little else beyond a few bribes), but one gets the feeling that Howard and Costello have absolutely no idea about what Australians are actually frightened of these days!

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