11 October 2007

Holding out for a better offer

(Published in today's Crikey newsletter)

I live in Bennelong and received a survey form from my local MP. It contains no Liberal Party livery and shows the local member in an open-necked blue shirt and cargo pants with pamphlets in his hands, as though he were a local running for council.

Why is he asking for my opinions now? Isn’t it too late to tailor his messages? Why no Liberal logos, and why hasn't the election been called yet? None of the explanations offered so far are convincing.

I suspect the reason the election hasn't been called yet is because donations to the Liberal Party have dried up.

The 1998 election was early. The elections of 2001 and 2004 were called when they were due or slightly before. Howard has not done Rudd slowly, as Keating did Hewson in '93.

In the lead-up to the 1996 election the Liberals crowed about how donations were flooding in. Pamela Williams' book The Victory describes how Ron Walker raised millions of dollars for the Liberal Party by traipsing up and down Melbourne's Collins Street. In the lead up-to elections since then, "senior figures" in the Liberal Party have bragged about their massive war chests.

In 2004, Liberals backgrounded journalists that donations to the ALP had stopped. The implication was that people lacked confidence in Labor, and though they denied it, the ALP failed to counter the Coalition advertising campaign.

There has been no gloaty backgrounding about donations this time. Remember how the PM chided business for not running ads in favour of WorkChoices? It would have been crass for him to ask for Liberal donations as well. It isn’t cheap to run campaigns capable of reversing an 8+% polling deficit. To go into an election behind in the polls would be difficult, but to do so with no capacity to turn them around – suicidal.

Those annoying government ads represent all the Coalition has. It’s too late for big initiatives, like infrastructure or a new new industrial relations system. Calling Parliament next week is political busking, hoping this activity will inspire someone to toss in some gold coins.

The Liberal Party’s biggest single donor has been Richard Pratt: now might not be a good time to ask him for money. The Liberal Party’s biggest fundraisers have been Ron Walker and Malcolm Turnbull, who are both also busy with other projects.

It’s one thing to keep your powder dry – but what if there is no powder?

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