10 November 2010

The people have spoken

After the federal elections, the federal directors go to the National Press Club and give a self-serving speech about how clever they were, with token acknowledgment of faults compensated for by a degree of blame transference that borders on mental instability.

There was a time when people wouldn't know what powerful people said unless a journalist was there to transcribe it. This piece on Labor and that piece on the Liberals come from that time. It has no value here. If I wanted the words of Karl Bitar or Brian Loughnane I'm sure there's streaming video of it out there somewhere: someone doing shorthand in a notepad has much less value than the journosphere might imagine.

Straight reportage of an event like this gives these jokers the last word in a federal election, when the last word belongs with the voters. As a former party member myself, those speeches basically set the talking points which act as a prophylactic to debate and reform over the coming parliament, ensuring that all but the most searing lessons are completely forgotten in three years.

The real challenge when reporting on some staged, staid and stale announcement is to consider how much of it is valuable information people can use, and how much self-serving bullshit. Two articles doing the straight reporting thing sell us all short, and is merely filler until some real analysis can come later on (probably in this weekend's papers). We here at the Politically Homeless Institute remember the 2010 Federal election clearly and appraise these speeches as reported thus:

Karl Bitar, Labor
Labor went into this year's federal election with lead in its saddlebags - voters with high expectations of a new government.
Who created those expectations? Who fell short of those expectations? Who failed to make the case that having a go and falling short beats not trying and demanding a return to the torpid way it was?
"People were dissatisfied … because we didn't meet the expectations they had of us when we won in 2007," he said. "Unfortunately, people's expectations were well beyond what any government could possibly meet."

He said all of this boiled down to the perfect recipe for a high protest vote - a high level of government dissatisfaction and a high percentage of people thinking we would definitely win."
... along with a low number who actually thought the government had solid achievements worth defending and perpetuating. Sneaky little backroom operators who advise Prime Ministers to flee at the first sign of discontent must bear some responsibility for undermining their own campaign, much more than "the press club" clearly put on Bitar.
Mr Bitar said the leaks and the Latham intrusion created perceptions of disunity and diverted attention from Labor's campaign.
Latham wasn't much of a force for Labor's good, and there are two questions arising from this:
  • Latham was a known quantity. Who expected that he would keep quiet? I can still remember when Channel 9 targeted Hewson in 1993 over the GST. Show me someone who never, ever expected that the boot would be on the other foot, and I'll show you someone with no political nous.
  • Whose idea was it to complain to Channel 9 about Latham? This is not something Gillard did herself, and which backfired on Gillard and Labor by making them look like sooks. Again, why was the journosphere too gutless polite to put this to Bitar? You wouldn't miss out on any stories worth reporting by doing so.
On top of all that is a virtual admission of, if not failure, then personal inadequacy:
The problem was not with the substance of the policies, but how they were communicated and reported ... strategically the right call, but "tactically, it didn't come off as well as we would have expected"
This is the cry of political losers everywhere. It was what the Libs did in NSW after they lost in 1995, and they only stopped doing it once Barry O'Farrell took over. There are three points here:
  • You know what, Karl (and you too Mark Davis, for just passing it on like some virus)? It was the policies, such as there were any after you numpties ran away fro them.
  • A political pro doesn't have anyone to blame their stumblebum delivery but themselves. If you can't communicate effectively, or you don't know crap from chocolate, consider whether your party is not better served by your absence than your presence.
  • When it comes to the nasty journos, focus groups should tell you they're not that significant. People tend to catch glimpses and snippets of news reports, and if they're inherently silly then no amount of po-faced reportage will add any value whatsoever, to the experience of the viewer/ reader/ citizen/ taxpayer/ voter, nor to the agenda of the transmitters of that message - and nor, ultimately, to the value and esteem in which the journosphere itself is held.
There are none so blind, etc.:
The rail link was good policy but it ended up "sucking oxygen" out of the campaign because the media reported it in an extremely cynical way.
How would Karl Bitar know what's good policy or not?

Why didn't Labor address the issue that the State Government had announced and re-announced that rail line over sixty times, and only a third of it was actually built. To turn such a sow's-ear of policy into a political silk purse, it was necessary to address that and make the case: no, this time we're serious, stop laughing. The Premier should have been nowhere near the announcement: the sight of Krissy & Jules palling it up was a negative for Federal Labor, not a positive.

The people of NSW are running down the clock, waiting to get rid of the State Labor government. No amount of whingeing about the media will change this. No amount of insistence that Keneally is political gold when she's actually political shit, will or can change this. Labor strategists should have known that Keneally would be a liability for Gillard. To contend otherwise is denialism, proof positive that the Labor campaign is run by someone with no clue about Australian politics today.

Given the essential vapidity of Labor's campaign, from what was the oxygen sucked?

Brian Loughnane, Liberal
THE strong swing to the Coalition in NSW at the election should have converted to more seats won, the federal director of the Liberal Party has said ... “It is very important that we understand precisely what happened,” he said.

“And the fact that we received such a strong swing and did not convert that to more seats obviously is something that is of concern to the party.”

Tony Abbott has previously conceded that the Opposition lost the election because of a failure to pick up at least three extra seats in NSW.

But Mr Loughnane today refused to admit errors had made been, defending the campaign in the state as “properly resourced”.
If NSW had been properly resourced, these seats would have been won:
  • Robertson would have been won as Labor split over Neal-O'Neill;
  • Banks was ridiculously under-resourced and a man from Manly was sent to contest it. The Liberals have had their eyes on that seat for twenty years, and Daryl Melham looks like going the way of John Howard - representing a safe seat that is slowly ebbing away - but without Howard's achievements (Melham has been in parliament for twenty years, Labor has been in government half that time and he's not been put into the front line. By contrast, when Melham was first elected, Kate Ellis was 13);
  • The Liberals would have won Greenway had they run an adult to contest it, like the Mayor of Blacktown whom David Clarke vetoed, rather than a Clarkoid named Jaymz. Only yokels in Queensland elect adolescents;
  • In Eden-Monaro the Liberals put up one of their sharpest politcal operatives, and he went backwards at a rate of knots, casting doubt over every jumped-up staffer and CrosbyTextorite who dared to offer political advice to any Liberal candidate;
  • Dobell, Hughes, Lyne: coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Loughnane is out of line when he claims the state was properly resourced. Moving campaign headquarters to Melbourne is stupid when there are no seats in play there. The Federal President can get off his arse and shift to Sydney or Brisbane for the duration, or more properly go somewhere from which no harm can be done. Melbourne arrogance was stamped out of the Liberal Party in the 1970s and was too gutless to return a generaion later. If you want to hold and inquiry, hold an inquiry; if you want to impose your views, stand up and do that - but spare us the charade of an inquiry with pre-defined solutions and backsides covered all round.

Mind you, it's worth noting that Tony Abbott has not grabbed the NSW Libs by the scruff of the neck and shaken it until people like Clarke fell away. Howard would have done that before the election. It's a sign that Abbott is a boy doing a man's job when it comes to practical politics. A year from now Abbott will be going cap-in-hand to Barry O'Farrell, if he's still leader (Abbott, not O'Farrell).
“Firstly, in relation to the campaign headquarters, we always move from Canberra to Melbourne a couple of days into the campaign. We did exactly at this election what we normally do.” “It’s widely agreed that it was one of the strongest campaign headquarters that we’ve ever run in the history of the party.”
No need for an inquiry then, carry on, as you were. Complacency in defeat is not going to pave the way for victory, but then again what would Brian Loughnane know about increasing the Liberal vote?
Addressing the ousting of Kevin Rudd, which fundamentally changed the political contest, Mr Loughnane said the party was not caught off guard. “We considered the possibility of Labor changing leaders before the election. Indeed, we prepared for it,” he said. “Our campaign was able to quickly adapt to Julie [sic] Gillard,” he boasted.
Leaving aside the possibility that Loughnane knows the Prime Minister's given name and that the transcriber can't be trusted to get that right - this is bullshit. Abbott was freaked out at coming up against a woman. The Liberal Paty benefitted from Labor's mistakes (the fact that it had no policies to run on, the Oakes-Rudd leaks) to the point where deep unease among female voters toward Abbott did not result in any rush to embrace Gillard.

Loughnane is right to point out Labor's muddle, and wrong not to point out the Liberals' own shortcomings that thankfully saw them fall short of government. Had the campaign gone on for another week the Liberals would have been cruelly exposed over their economic (non-)policy. Loughnane ran his party into the ground due to insouciance and arrogance, which brought it up short of victory. Mind you, nobody in the Liberal Party wants to be Prime Minister enough to kick him from one end of Collins Street to the other; and no journalist wants to lose the prospect of "We reveal Liberal internal polling showing that ..." space-filla stories, valuable as they are.


  1. Good analysis.

    I note Bitar seems to have totally ignored the absolute mindlessness of dumping Kevin Rudd at a time when the ALP was 52-48 up in newspoll (and climbing). Usually, at that point in the electoral cycle, govts are on the nose, but the ALP was doing very well. Only someone with no historical perspective could miss that. But, despite that, the factional bosses then pulled the most crack-head stupid political stunt since federation. Why?

    Interestingly, nobody in the ALP really tries to argue any more that Rudd had to go because of the polls. Indeed, the ALP still hasn't reached 52 - 48 in the polls. Rather, we're told that Kevviee was not a nice chappie - which says everything you need to know about the factional bosses (and their coat-tailers).

    And what did the coup produce: the ALP almost lost office and they've made the Green a viable third political force in this country. That can't have been easy - but they managed it.

  2. Hillbilly Skeleton13/11/10 8:35 pm

    Your analysis of the 'problem' that the ALP had in Robertson which could have been exploited by the Liberal Party to win the seat, is simplistic in the extreme.
    You obviously didin't know that the NSW Liberal Party pumped an enormous amount of pre-election, as in 18 months out from the election and soon after Iguanagate had become a cause celebre for Belinda Neal, time and money into this seat.
    They chose their candidate well in advance of the pre-election year. They chose what they thought was the ideal Liberal Party candidate, a God-fearing(because we have so many charismatic Churches up here), ex-Policeman and President of one of the local Chambers of Commerce. Oh, and he had manouvered himself into being the head of one of the SLSCs. He had a picture-perfect family to boot. And he was running for the seat that Belinda had buggered! QED! Except, the local FEC decide very early on also to move heaven and earth to retain the seat. We had our much desired Rank and File pre-selection, which received a large amount of media coverage, which was good because it showed Belinda and John up to their old tricks, and failing.
    After this, you could almost hear the electorate let out a sigh of relief. They knew the difference between Belinda Neal, and Deborah O'Neill.
    Then, onto the election. Deborah did what John Alexander did in Bennelong. She knocked on doors till her feet and knuckles bled. She went to every shopping centre and every public forum and local festival she could find out about. She took her even more photogenic daughters with her. The campaign run like a well-oiled machine. Strange wrt the rest of the ALP campaign, I know, however we were a self-contained unit almost.
    And then, Darren Jameson the Lib candidate kindly helped us by roughing up a couple of local lads and got on the front page of the Tele.
    Also, Tony Abbott didn't come up here much, when I would have thought that he could have spared some time away from Qld. to campaign a bit more in his home State. Maybe he thought that being a NSWelshman was enough. Another mistake by Loughnane and Abbott no doubt.
    Anyway, the electors of Robertson weren't stupid. They figured out who was the better candidate. Which is how it should be.

  3. The rise of the Greens has been happening for some time, it's a bit like the rise of the ALP accelerating once Alfred Deakin fell into ill health.

    The theme of Rudd as nasty man is hilarious - if they wanted a nice guy they would have stuck with Beazley. Show me the successful Labor leader who's always lovely to everyone (including Howes, Bitar et al).

  4. HS, it was one line: you bet it's simplistic.

    I thought the Libs were half-hearted: Chris Hartcher going on holidays underlined that for me. Given the rest of the Lib campaign over recent years I would have thought roughing up a few local hoons would be the clincher rather than the nail in the coffin (having spent six years at Erina High, I know what Jameson was up against).

    Apart from that, we're in furious agreement that the Libs could have done more and didn't.

  5. Yes, andrew, it's truly pathetic when the ALP hacks have to rummage around in their rag-bag of excuses and come up with: well, we didn't like the bloke.

    I don't expect much from political professionals, but I do expect professionism. They couldn't even manage that.