19 October 2007

Never mind the early jitters, Howard can't win

Kevin Rudd has followed the Labor Party's How to Win Elections playbook to the letter. Just as Bob Carr did in NSW, Bracks in Victoria, Beattie in Queensland, etc., Kevin Rudd is earnestly and conservatively putting his case for change without snarling at the incumbents or being overly radical, and waiting for the incumbents to grow tired of governing or get so rattled they basically drop their bundle.

The key question in this election is: can you vote Labor without sending the economy down the toilet? Labor has made the positive case on pretty much every field of policy except the economy and national security. This means that people are uncomfortable about returning the incumbent government on the day-to-day business of government, but they will vote Liberal-National if they must.

Labor will win because they have to make the positive case about their stewardship in these two areas and the Coalition have to make a radical case. Rudd only has to declare that he's competent, and the benefit of the doubt (reflected in solidly positive polling all year) will go with him. People know what Howard stands for (and doesn't); so in order for voters to give him another go, Howard has to up the ante, ad shake up perceptions of his abilities to shape the agenda going forward.

It's easier to be conservative and competent than it is to be radical. Incumbent governments know this: usually it is the government that is conservative and competent and the opposition are radical: this is what Mark Latham was driving at (hey, my guess is as good as anyone's). However, the incumbent government has been in too long and people are comfortable to the point of being bored. Scare campaigns are all very well when you're feeling under the gun, but if you're comfortable they're a little bit unseemly.

Howard is trying to be conservative and competent - but he's had a long record of being neither on occasion. Anyway, that doesn't get you noticed - it gets you taken for granted, which means that you lack the boldness and the sudden burst of energy necessary to pull out of the dive. With his polling, Rudd doesn't have to be radical to be noticed. Finally, the small target strategy is working: but only when the government has been goaded to a point where it is trying to be all things to everybody, and ends up only encouraging people to look for an alternative, which they seem to have found.

The tax policies released this week reveal half-hearted (and possibly "non-core") radicalism from the Coalition, and studied stolidness from Labor. Labor can't lose I tell ya, and all the rest is hype.

On 24 November we'll see Labor with 90 seats (currently 60), Liberals 50 (75), Nationals 7 (11), CLP 0 (1), Independents 3 (3). I'll be more specific about which seats later.


  • 3-3 in NSW, WA and Victoria and one each in the NT.

  • Labor 3, Liberals 2 in SA and Tasmania, with Xenophon and Brown respectively getting up.

  • Queensland: Labor 3, Liberals 1, Nationals 1, and Andrew Bartlett of what used to be the Democrats.

  • Will the Greens beat the Libs in the ACT? Probably not.

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