24 February 2011

Under pressure

Tony Abbott has never been popular among women or other swinging voters, and according to recent polls he is less so than he has been. The swaggering, the insensitive brain-farts followed by quasi-apologies, the Mark Riley encounter all lead to an impression that Abbott's a bully. People who know him say he's a softie, but people who know bullies always say stuff like that and they are always going to be a minority. Besides, there's a difference between being a softie and having a glass jaw; Abbott's got where he is by cutting a swathe through small-s softies. It's hard to claim both credit for his record and sympathy for his current predicament.

This image was exacerbated by Morrison, bagging mourners at a funeral as well as those who ferried them to and from the gravesite. In an attempt to clear his name he put out a speech from a few years ago - but anyone can make a speech, and the trouble with platitudes is that they get overwhelmed by stronger fare. Morrison can go with Muslim youth to Kokoda (thanks to @GhostWhoVotes for the link), but he did not dare go with them a few suburbs away to where they live, and where casual racism makes hard lives harder for no good reason. He did not take them to Gallipoli, where the toughness, skill and respectability of the Mussulman was first imprinted upon our country's consciousness.

Even if you've never been a Coalition voter you can understand why Abbott and others in the Coalition are down on Oakeshott and Windsor, two former National Party members who have denied government to the Coalition. In that context, this and that are understandable - but still not helpful.

Ganging up on Oakeshott won't help because it reinforces the bully image. If you vote for a Coalition government they will probably bully you - does any Liberal really want to project an image like that? More to the point, does anyone want to hand Labor a stick like that with which to beat the Coalition? Bullying negates policies like paid parental leave, because nobody will believe a bully will come through with such a policy (or if they do, the price they'll pay for such a concession will be far too high).

Oakeshott has survived tribulations that would have crushed a stuffed-shirt like Chester or a time-server like Williams, and can rise above catty remarks from Nash: but that isn't the point. Like schoolkids, the Coalition has decided to sneer Oakeshott out of existence. Maybe they'll prevail and maybe they won't, but in the process they'll look petty and mean and otherwise not the sort of people you'd want governing you.

Oakeshott is voting against the flood levy, an astonishing development for anyone who's seen the Hastings swollen and roaring after days of heavy rain. Any political capital the Coalition might hope to gain from that is overshadowed by the spectre of bullying (and anyway, what political capital? Do you think Queenslanders like being bullied from the southern states? Does anyone?).

Remember how Abbott mumbled "That's bullshit" to Nicola Roxon before the 2007 election (and they made that guy their leader?)? I'll bet that there will be video of Coalition MPs jostling Oakeshott, or worse, which will cause Liberal polling to plunge and make the positions of Gillard and Oakeshott stronger, not weaker. Whatever Oakeshott's failings or successes as a local member he'll get a sympathy vote along with a reputation for standing up to vested interests (remember when the Nats had a reputation like that, fighting for the little guy rather than against?). If the Nationals really regard Port Macquarie, the Hastings and Manning Valleys and surrounding districts as some wayward fief of which they are rightful rulers, they'll never get rid of him.

They've tried bullying Muslims (and with that, making the clear implication that Immigration people suck at their jobs because even though migrants have passed all the checks, they're apparently still suspect). They've tried sniping at one another, and think that the answer is to focus on a common enemy - not the big bad ALP but one independent MP, who could help put them into government if he wanted to. Who's next?

I know Opposition is tough, and many current MPs and Senators won't be members of the next Coalition government; but members of the Coalition have to learn to keep their frustrations under control and play a smarter, longer game. The Coalition and its leader have to work against a reputation for bullying, not reinforce it.


  1. Yet another reason for women to detest Mr Abbott - his suggestion about how Prime Minister Gillard should make "an honest woman of herself".

    Paternalistic, misogynistic, and sloppy - he can't even quote the Bard properly.

  2. The line you write about Queenslanders resenting bullying from the south is important. Abbott came within a hair's breadth of winning because of Queensland. From the moment he touched down in Brisbane on the day of the floods I've thought that the Coalition have been squandering their gains at the last election. When you're knee deep in brown water or picking up the bits of your cyclone-smashed business, Abbott quibbling about a levy is bound to get your back up. Bligh might even have saved herself by doing what needed to be done; Abbott managed to look petty. The savings line might have been worth an aside, but not a full-scale campaign. I doubt that Queenslanders will soon forget it.

  3. My first memory of Abbott's involvement in the floods came with him stepping out of a car in polished black shoes and sinking ankle-deep into flood residue. So much for forward planning and briefing: I thought: uh-oh, he's losing this one. And he has gone backwards ever since. Can't wait till the next LNP fundraiser in that state.

  4. Fiona: ... a tale told by an idiot/Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.