16 January 2007


The ultimate value in politics is winning office and the holding of it until one is ready to give it to someone else.

Before he became Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd accused Howard of being a "market fundamentalist", someone who supposedly adheres to harsh philosophies that line the pockets of the rich and which grind poor working stiffs into the ground. This has rallied the Labor faithful and propelled Rudd into the Federal leadership, and if Rudd was as dumb as Latham he'd flog this dead horse of Howard-the-meanie all the way to the next election.

Mark Bahnisch reckons that Rudd's position is being undermined by allegations from Labor frontbenchers of Howard's economic imprudence. Really? Looks like a pincer movement from this angle. Howard can be accused of both straying from "his" core principles (as ascribed to him) and being insufficiently flexible in meeting the needs of the economy. This sets Howard up as being lost, tired, out of touch.

Then there's defence, as explained earlier. Howard's strong defence rhetoric on one hand, stolen RPG launchers and a fixed commitment to a failed US strategy on the other: lost, tired, out of touch.

The economy and defence are Howard's two strongest issues. On what other issues would he run for re-election? To look conniving and unprincipled on either would be politically fatal.

Howard goes on about values, and it carries him over the tops of events where the finer details make him look bad. By making out that Howard says one thing and does another makes Howard just like any other politician. He'd lose his wider narrative and get bogged down in chocolate-cake level of detail on issues that just aren't on his talking points. It's a smart strategy if Labor can pull it off.

This strategy requires:
  • Rudd to be both ferociously disciplined and warmly appealling. The former would be a fair bet, the latter less so - unless the Coalition attack him and he gets the sympathy vote;

  • Labor to be equally disciplined. One of them will inevitably wander off the party line and into a media minefield; and

  • Rudd to balance the idea that he's a "safe pair of hands" with the idea that he can resolve some of the issues that Howard is no longer able to address in any meaningful way: creeping interest rate rises, infrastructure problems, David Hicks, you name it.

This "safe pair of hands" image requires playing up the successes of his time as Queensland Cabinet Office chief and playing down the tough-guy reputation that saw Goss go the way of Nick Greiner: a mixed message of compassion and fairness combined with the odd kick in the guts for demonstration purposes, which confused voters and led them to get rid of a good government as soon as practicable. Hawke managed it, but Kevin Rudd is no Bob Hawke.

Kevin Rudd is no Kim Beazley. The whole labour movement campaign against WorkChoices as framed by Beazley is that John Howard is working against Labor values, values he's never professed and spent his lifetime opposing. Yeah? So? What a waste of time.

A sign - and a necessary precondition - that voters are prepared to give Rudd the benefit of the doubt is that Howard gets and stays in trouble. By going Howard on values and impaling him on the horns of his various dilemmas Labor are giving themselves their best chance. They need plenty of luck to make it work for them.

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