Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Political Advice By The Column Inch

Posted by Possum Comitatus on April 1, 2008

crikeylogo.jpg This was me earlier today in Crikey.

In a headline that rivals “Strange Man on Public Transport!” for its sheer obviousness, Opposition is a Tough Business. With new governments come new oppositions which generally struggle to cope with the large decrease in relevance associated with the opposition benches. But after eighteen weeks, most Federal oppositions have at least developed some veneer of political strategy, some understanding of the job required in opposition which the polling starts to reflect. The day to day demand of having a 5 second grab on the great suite of topics that make up the news cycle starts getting complimented with more strategic approaches to the long term business of opposition.

What seems to separate the current opposition from their forebears is that the political strategy in its entirety appears to have been outsourced by the column inch to a set of News Limited journos that give Hawker Britton a run for their money in terms of pure spin. We’ve had the carers payment “crisis” which was little more than journalistic speculation gone feral, we’ve had the Aurukun/Macklin nonsense, we’ve currently got the Australia/Japan relationship “crisis” where the list goes on and on and on. The problem is that these stories sit somewhere between manufactured outrage and mocumentraries on the quality spectrum, allowing the government to easily adapt to whatever crisis they’re apparently facing this week by throwing some small bone to kill the story – an early budget clarification on the one hand, organise a quick Japan meet and greet on the other.

While it’s to be expected that oppositions follow the news cycle, and its to be expected that this type of sensationalist tabloid journalism that drives eyeballs to advertisers will make up a large part of that news cycle, regardless of the size of the paper the stories are printed on – the problem for the opposition is that it’s mostly vacuous fluff that that the public either sees through, doesn’t care about, or worse – they do believe it was an issue and then watch as that nice man Mr Rudd far from caving in to pressure, simply does what’s right and ends up looking in touch with the voters.

If we create a rolling two pollster average using Newspoll and Morgan and compare the first eighteen weeks of the Rudd and Howard governments, something stands out:


By this time in the term of the Howard government, the Beazley opposition had started to move on from the easy pickings of the news cycle and began to compliment that by applying greater strategic pressure about the new government’s policy program, which resulted in Howard’s polling honeymoon being slowly eroded. Yet the current opposition with its scatter gun style and lazy strategic approach is, if anything, falling further behind the ALP as time goes on.

If we want to place it in an even starker context, we can compare the vote gap that existed between the government and opposition of the day in 1996 and 2008 – again using this rolling two pollster average.


Whether this is the result of Rudd being a better political manager than Howard, Beazley being a better opposition leader than Nelson, the nature of political circumstance at the time or some mix of any and all of these things – what is inescapable is that Nelson is failing and that’s not good for the quality of governance.

What might be worth a shot is for the opposition to spend a little more time focusing on real policy issues that the public actually gives a hoot about and a little less time following the droning choir of News Ltd spruikers that are taking tabloid politics to whole new shallows of gravitas.

Unless of course the Libs really like turning the previously unheard of 20 point vote gap into a regular theme of federal politics. They should look north and see how that’s played out in Qld to disabuse themselves of any notion that such a thing would be impossible.


In other news – Steve Dickson, one of the 8 State Parliamentary members of the Qld Liberal party has threatened to quit over the proposed party merger not being taken to the vote in the party membership. The good news is that such a move would break the 4 all deadlock over the regular Lib leadership tussles, avoiding the need for future coin tossing to solve this most difficult of issues.

Still on Qld matters, Lawrence Springborg has threatened to take his pineapple and go home if the Libs and the Nats continue to refuse to take his proposed new party seriously. Meanwhile Mal Brough has decided to storm the barricades of the Liberal organisation in QLD and put a sword to the evil forces of Count Santo Santoro and his dark army of mediocrity.

Not to be out done in the loony-tunes stakes, NSW Liberal State MP Ray Williams has been accused of getting all hairy chested and challenging a branch president (as well as anyone said president could muster for help) to an old fashioned round of fisticuffs. And just in case you thought that this outbreak of the sillyseason was limited to State politics, the NSW Libs at the local council level have started recruiting One Nation hacks to help them run their local government campaign in the Baulkham Hills area.

Meanwhile, away from Tory central and over at the comrades in Victoria, Andrew Landeryou has uncovered some nuttery going on in Higgins at the local ALP branch level that pretty much explains why most people couldn’t be buggered to join political parties.

And finally, Andrew Bolt plays an April fools day prank on his readership, demonstrating via the comments section what most of us have known about his particular audience for a long time.

On something completely different – this is why they made Youtube.

Ooops – sorry. That was just Nightwatchman threatening to get “in and out of everyday Australians”. If you’re heading to a servo or shopping center over the next week or two, try not to get violated.

This is why they made Youtube!

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15 Responses to “Political Advice By The Column Inch”

  1. pligg.com said

    Political Advice By The Column Inch « Possums Pollytics

    In a headline that rivals “Strange Man on Public Transport!” for its sheer obviousness, Opposition is a Tough Business. With new governments come new oppositions which generally struggle to cope with the large decrease in relevance associated with …

  2. Andrew Bolt’s April Fool’s day joke isn’t all that funny in light the fact that the Liberal Party are in complete disarray. The last thing they need is him to join them.

    Bit like wearing a clown costume to a funeral.

  3. Greensborough Growler said

    Steve Dixon backs down. Is anyone surprised?


  4. bilko said

    I always thought Boltey was a secrete card carrying liberal so why not let him join all the other clowns on the opposition bench be it front/back or centre

  5. steve_e said

    When you have a Policy portfolio that is a No Man’s Land, where do you turn?

    The answer is to a woman – Julie B.

    She whose task it is to progress the old policies that need some work into new policies.

    Is it any wonder that the good journos at The Oz are filling the vacuum.

    We do know that Nature Abhors a Vacuum.

    Should the Nightwatchman be worried?

  6. B.S. Fairman said

    The dip in Howard’s support around the 14 week might have something more to do with the gun buyback which ate into the so-called “Howard Battlers”. Plus he had that shocking footage on the news where he was wearing a bullet-proof jacket when speaking to a shooters rally that made him look weak and worried.

  7. Checkout more Andrew Landeryou nuttiness at this blog too http://www.slanderyou2.blogspot.com

  8. Lukas said

    Brendan Nelson’s comment about being in and out of everyday Australians (does he mean in and out of Ausralians every day? And what about part-time Australians who aren’t one every day?) reminds me of Billy Snedden’s famous comment during his two year period as Opposition leader:

    “Wherever I go in Australia, people know that something is wrong”.

    It was the truest thing he said.

    By the way, the gun buy back excuse for Howard’s early poll dip holds little water for me. Public opinion was behind what Howard did.

    Click to access cgi-lib.13609.1.0603GUNS.pdf

    Click to access cgi-lib.13001.1.0501GUN.pdf

    Click to access cgi-lib.32101.1.1004gun_control.pdf

  9. PASOK said

    So Andrew Bolt came out of the closet, saw it wasn’t close enough to Mardi Gras, and went back in until a more fascist-friendly time. Maxine McKew he certainly ain’t.

    I don’t remember Bomber producing ANY political strategy until 2005 when he worked up the courage to make himself an anti-Workchoices pollie. I thought Howard’s dip was budget based. He & Iceberg made a raft of cuts to everything, and 14 weeks after March would have been the post-budget blues.

  10. JP said

    Perhaps it’s a reflection of no more than Labor coping better with change.

    That makes sense: they’ve historically been the party of change, whereas change is uncomfortable for conservatives almost by definition.

  11. Andos said

    I love how the Liberal party are now calling for submissions from the public as to how they should be an effective opposition: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/04/02/2205351.htm?section=australia

    Is this a joke? Does this party stand for anything at all, or does it want us to tell it what to stand for? Here’s an idea: develop effective alternative policies and hold the Government to account.

  12. Rx said

    Instead of meet-and-greet stunts, cardboard cutout shenanigans, and puerile self-stroking exercises, the Liberals should get back to their WorkChoices. Remember who are your bosses, Liberals!

  13. fred said

    I picked this out of the post: re: the media manufactured fluff
    “….. it’s mostly vacuous fluff that that the public either sees through,…”
    I dunno about that.
    I mean, I really don’t know.
    It would be nice to think it is accurate but how would we detirmine that? Remember when Poss said he was AWOL in the back blocks for a while and saw the media politics reports as most, not pseph types, see them? Fleeting, minimal glimpses of issues in between the more important business of getting on with life?
    I reckon its not the individual issues as such but the constant cumulative sniping that “things aint as good as they should be’ that creates a negativeness about this government and impacts on a few people, but perhaps significant few, slowly over time.
    Cos I can’t see it [the media manufactured fluff] stopping.

  14. Grumps said

    Nice observation about the column inches Poss. If you got time would be nice to see a polished analysis of TPP versus News (American) Limited attack dogs column inches to see if they are more effective opposition than the nightwatchman.

    I suppose the only dependant variable here is the Yank’s attack dogs, as it seems under the nightwatchman’s stand, buggar all is happening.

    I am little errant here in flogging the ‘watchman’. I am enjoying a reread of “What Goes Up behind the 2007 election” by Nicholas Stuart. Surprise surprise he writes of Rudd’s Listening Tour after ascending as leader of the opposition. Paraphrasing Nicholas Stuart “not so much to listen but to at least sell the Labor message.”

    Copying could be considered as a sincere form of flattery, but in the liberal’s case it to little to late.

    The current opposition woes remind me of how the Victorian liberals found themselves after Kennett’s defeat. The focus on one man coupled with the arrogance and hubris of the party, ensured that they become an non viable opposition under Napthine. Maybe only the Yank’s attack dogs, at least, have learned this lesson.

    Fred you are right “the fluff from the main stream” won’t stop. Coupled with the mainstream population who are not able to separate this fluff from fact. We are in for an interesting time.

    Possibly we could run a prize for the best beat up created in the mainstream during this vacuous period?

  15. JP said

    Andos @ 11:

    Asking the public what they want is the worst possible thing the Libs could do. After all it’s not that long since the public stated loud and clear that what it wanted was a Rudd government.

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