28 August 2007

Closing the window of opportunity

Christian Kerr has noted (you'll need to be a Crikey subscriber) that there has been no improvement in the polls for the government following the Budget.

There has been an expectation for some time that there would be a bounce. After the first few weeks of Kevin Rudd's leadership, when people found out what a stuffed shirt he is. Then, after Anzac day. Then after the Sunrise/Long Tan debacle. Then the Budget. Now, the strip club thing. Yep, any day now ...

Sounds like typical Liberal thinking to me. I can still see the NSW election campaign of 1999, all those guys leaning back in their chairs with their fingers interlaced behind their fat heads explaining how Kerry Chikarovski was cruising to victory over Carr and Labor, just cruising! All those guys who helped put the Fraser government where it is today, and who go around the country in state election time bestowing the same favours on hapless leaders who don't realise they've been dudded until this same Clown Squad have convinced them it's all the locals' fault.

There comes a time when you have to stop listening to these clowns. When you start regarding the as jokes things become so much clearer. Christian Kerr is the insider that people like Matt Price or Annabel Crabb pretend to be, but sometimes being too much of an insider can lose you perspective.

There are two reasons why there was no budget bounce for the government. Let's call them Peter and John.

Peter used to have credibility, he has been front-and-centre in election campaigns past as A Steady Hand On The Wheel, but no more. Since he stood on The Water's Edge too scared to take the plunge his credibility is shot. He has the same perception of gutlessness as Kim Beazley, another political dauphin who never made it to the big time.

John also used to have credibility. In trying to demonstrate boundless energy while becoming a sixtysomething grandfather, he has dispelled any warm-and-fuzzy nostalgic notions (remember Keating's sneer about Morphy Richards toasters? What's wrong with them?). Instead, he's cultivating that image of oldies frittering away our inheritance for their own enjoyment, splashing around money like it's, ah, water. This sense of unease is compounded by the fact that he has pointed to Peter's hanging, twisting corpse and paid tribute to its vigorous activity.

In this speech, it's interesting to note that such economic experience as the government has rests in John personally with the standard token acknowledgment of Peter utterly absent. Why should John get stuck with such a loser at a difficult time? Why should you?

The economic credibility of the Howard government is shot. You know things are bad when even Jase can see it - a distillation of stale the consensus around the press gallery perhaps, but better than insisting that the turnaround is just around the corner (when you're going down the gurgler, you're always turning the corner).

Cast your mind back to 1997 - or even 1987, when I first met Christian Kerr as Chris Pyne's right hand - and imagine John Howard losing an election for being too wasteful and centralist. Let the wailings begin about lost opportunities, closing the window of opportunity etc.

Just so you know: there will be no bounce in the election campaign either. Nothing bounces against a closed window: all that happens is that the window shatters.

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