... "Sir! you have disappointed us!Why is the Coalition level-pegging with Labor? Why aren't they streets ahead by now? By this point they should be cruising to victory, not bluffing and winging it and hoping that the press don't notice like they have every day since Howard lost office.
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is! ... My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!"
- Hillaire Belloc Lord Lundy
The very idea that Abbott should be level-pegging with a visibly tired Rudd, after almost four years of politico-media busywork and the full support of the Murdoch press (which drags the centre-seeking ABC and Fairfax into a lukewarm pro-Abbott position) is a pathetic outcome for the Coalition. It's been a long time since even the most cliche-ridden journo has hailed Abbott as "the greatest opposition leader ever". He doesn't have cut-through, not even after three-and-a-bit years of uncritical media every day.
Labor has not been smashed like Whitlam was in 1975, nor Keating in '96. Mind you, it hasn't come roaring back like an institutionalised version of Rudd's own Will To Power - but that's nothing to do with Abbott.
There had been a long flat buzz for Abbott, and only then because stories about him were the only positive stories coming out of Canberra for a long time. There had been a short buzz for Rudd because he delivered them from being ignored by Gillard, and it lasted until Murdoch jerked them back into line. Insofar as either had been tangible, both are now gone. The strong polls for Abbott have always been very, very soft, and those of us who said so were pooh-poohed by people who take polls seriously.
Abbott has infuriated Labor voters with his sleazy antics in western Sydney, and whimpering at Rudd to shut up. This is dog-whistling to his silly base, the only kind of politicking he knows how to do, rather than winning over the unconvinced. Nobody who voted Labor or independent in 2010 will vote Coalition on the basis of Abbott's carry-on. The fact that it does not even occur to Liberal strategists that this is a problem shows how heavily they rely upon the largely inapplicable American model, where the uncommitted and disengaged do not vote.
No politician in Australian history has enjoyed such uncritically positive coverage. None has so little to show for it. Shut up? Only those with nothing to say should say nothing.
The whole idea of paid parental leave is to stuff the mouths of women who are unsure about Abbott with cash. People who've had children, and who paid attention (unlike Abbott, who shot through as soon as the hard work needed to be done on that front) know that birth and soon afterwards isn't the period when kids are expensive. If you're serious about supporting families you have to vote against a badly thought out policy imposed on the Coalition not once but twice. It was a dud policy the first time, it is a dud policy now, it deals with a non-problem politically and in the community, and it is not an authentic product of the Coalition parties' own processes.
On one level it is understandable that the Coalition would avoid policy commitments. Labor had two policy wonks in leadership positions, Gillard and Swan; one too many in the top two roles, but two more than the entire Coalition frontbench. Then again, you can't claim that the incumbents are the worst government ever while offering less in every area:
- Whatever the shortcomings of the Rudd-Gillard governments in healthcare, Abbott's sole differentiating policy - hospital boards - will do nothing to help;
- If you believe our telecommunications system needs more and better wireless, how will steel cabinets in every street and an unsustainable reliance on copper help? Offering less than "the worst government in Australia's history" makes no sense; and
- In immigration the government has pretty much negated the Coalition's push, leaving Morrison appealing only to trigger-happy weirdos in a doomed quest for differentiation. You've been wedged, and you can't even tell.
In this contest the hare has ground to a halt and winking to his supporters, mistaking their urgings-on with cheers, while the dull tortoise plods on. An uninspiring government faces re-election because its opponent has offered such a weak challenge.