20 September 2009

Hard to get good help in NSW politics

Finally, the NSW Liberals have woken up to the ALP. It took fourteen years and four defeats for them to realise that Labor runs against itself.

Bob Carr did it in 1999, acting as ombudsman for any dissatisfaction with the government of which he was nominally leader. He did it again in 2003, but nothing really changed then either. Morris Iemma, being a blank slate, promised to be a sort of action man on stuff that popped up in focus groups, but nothing changed and that was the whole idea.
That's the view of Liberal Party masterminds who have prepared a bloody campaign battle plan based on international strategies.

Liberal Party state director Mark Neeham has warned his troops Labor is shaping up for a no-holds-barred war in which its MPs will appear to turn on the Rees Government.

Mr Neeham drew on the advice of international political strategists to prepare a four-point bulletin for Liberal MPs, warning them of the Labor campaign techniques they would have to counteract.

See, they couldn't just learn lessons from NSW, which were perfectly sufficient to have drawn these conclusions. As for "international strategists", who would the NSW Liberals call upon to help?

  • British and Canadian conservatives would be kept busy in their home markets.

  • New Zealanders would only be able to regurgitate the same Crosby-Textor patter of which the Liberals are too well aware.

  • Other international sources of political advice - Zimbabwe? the Philippines? Afghanistan? Israel? Honduras? - would offer, ah, inexact parallels.

  • The only ones available for this sort of work would have been US Republicans who - how to put this kindly? - helped put the GOP where it is today.

When you donate money to the NSW Liberals as the most potent lever to force NSW Labor from office, this is what you're paying for. Those jerks wouldn't have the humility to charge a reasonable rate, either. As a blow-in himself, Neeham would have had to pull off something impressive-sounding to impress the local-yokels running William Street.
"They will try to portray themselves as 'different from' or not associated with the Rees Labor Government, and indeed Nathan Rees himself - [as] quasi-independents/community activists," Mr Neeham's message said.

"As part of this, the between-the-lines message to the electorate from NSW Labor MPs will acknowledge the community's anger and then seek to deflect it: 'I know NSW Labor is a failed organisation that's making NSW fail, but don't blame me because I am a good local MP fighting for you'. If, however, there is any good news to be had from the Rudd Labor Government, NSW Labor MPs in marginal seats will be organised to take credit for it.

There aren't that many Labor MPs who can make that claim. About a dozen or so of them are genuine community activists, and they are mostly old-school pollies in safe seats. Mostly they're union officials bumped off the path to union leadership and shunted into state politics as a consolation prize.
"There is already strong evidence of this 'identity-theft' tactic in electorate newsletters, direct mail and suburban media being done by NSW Labor MPs in marginal seats in relation to the Commonwealth Government's stimulus package."

There are two issues here:

  1. Nobody believes the State Government any more. They put out press releases on all sorts of stuff all the time, and a few days later they backtrack on it claiming it is "old news", and the press gallery report this because what else do they have to do?

  2. Federal Labor goes to the polls before NSW Labor does, and when it comes to March 2011 Labor MPs will find their credit and credibility pretty much empty, the sort of howling void that no branding strategy than adequately bridge.

It is a conceit of the marketing strategists' art that any sort of branding strategy might be capable of such a feat.
"On given key issues in an electorate, it is likely that NSW Labor MPs in marginal seats will be given the OK to openly campaign against their own Government's public positions.

"This will be done in the knowledge that at some stage the Government will 'cave in' to the local NSW Labor MP's demands.

"The purpose of this tactic is not only to a create a myth about local Labor MPs' 'independence' ...

"Their own government's public positions" are so rubbery nobody knows what they are. The hope is, Mark, that the Liberals also take a position against the policies of the Labor government, within a longterm narrative about substantial community needs like health and transport to which Labor no longer has any right to be regarded credibly. You need credibility and guts to allow people to run against you, qualities that Rees and his ministry lack.

An example of this is Verity Firth, a shot duck if ever there was one. Firth should resign from the ministry in a huff around mid-2010, bagging Rees and Sussex Street and vowing to fight for Balmain, to the roar of cheering that used to come from Leichhardt Oval when the Tigers did the same. Trouble is, Rees can't spare her from the front bench, and losing a key minister at an unfortunate time will be less the dropping of the other shoe than the excision of a gangrenous foot.
The Government would also try to look busy, Mr Neeham said, to give the impression it was getting on with the job. The already busy daily media advisory of ministerial activities would show more superficial action to make it seem the Government was addressing community concerns.

They're doing that already, except only Mark Neeham and Nathan Rees think this means "getting on with the job" - it's busywork for facile people. Creating "fixed fights" with such people is yet more pointless busywork.

The key ingredient of Labor's successes in NSW has been internal dissent within the Liberals, caused by David Clarke and egged on by cretins in his orbit. The removal of that ingredient is Barry O'Farrell's great achievement, succeeding where others failed. Now it is Labor that looks like the rabble - Neeham may be right in not wanting the Liberals to be complacent, but he was not obliged to do so in a way that makes him look so bleedin' obvious or that makes his intended audience (Liberal State MPs) look so stupid that they need to be lectured in this fashion.

The idea of that article is perhaps to show that Graham Wedderburn is overrated and that Nathan Rees' whole game plan - hoping nobody had noticed the state is going backwards under Labor - is pretty much shot, with no time or chances left. The idea that a muppet like Mark Neeham can see through you is a real disgrace for NSW Labor, the political equivalent of getting dacked in the middle of Sussex Street.

None of this will stop Neeham being fĂȘted by the NSW parliamentary press gallery as some sort of genius - but the thinking shown in that article shows that he'll deserve no credit for the inevitable victory of March 2011. It's all O'Farrell's work, and the only thing required of Neeham is that he not screw it up and help light a fire under the State Parliamentary Liberal Party. If foreigners, however questionable, impress this moribund lot and get them moving - perhaps it isn't such a waste.

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