26 February 2008

Rain dogs

Dogs navigate their way around by patterns of odours. From American cities comes the phenomenon of "rain dogs", where a sudden downpour washes away the patterns of odours and leave dogs stranded wherever they find themselves, without any sense of how to get home.

The Liberal Party are a bit like rain dogs at the moment, with all their familiar reference points gone and no sense of direction. This is why Gerard Henderson has demonstrated his firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick by using the media to attack the media. The headline writer of this piece has framed Henderson's article as though it is the Liberals, not the media, that is being criticised.

The headline writer has it right. It is the Liberals who need a new sense of direction and purpose. They, and Henderson, also need to understand that sometimes the media will be critical of them, if not outright unfair.
Bongiorno put it to Pyne that he should not raise the issue of Kevin Rudd's past dealings with the West Australian operative Brian Burke since this was "raking over old coals" ... can anyone imagine Bongiorno telling Senator Bob Brown three years ago that he should not raise the children overboard affair against John Howard since this had been adjudicated at the 2004 election? The Bongiorno question provides just one example of how some journalists apply different standards to the Coalition as distinct from Labor.

Burke is "old coals" because we are talking about a minor political issue - not at all equivalent to the life-and-death magnitude of children being thrown into the ocean and a group of people, if not Australia's entire humanitarian migration program, vilified by implication. The Coalition are working themselves into a state over nothing, and journalists do us a favour by bumping them off their talking points.
The cartoonist Michael Leunig, The Age's house leftist, set the tone recently when he bagged the Prime Minister's apology speech as being both "feeble" and "banal".

Henderson might tilt at Leunig out of habit, having spent four decades doing so, but criticism from Leunig is to be expected. Henderson asserted but did not establish that Michael Leunig sets the tone - in The Age or anywhere else. Does Paul Bongiorno, or anyone else "bagged" by Gerard Henderson, really take their cues from Michael Leunig? Honestly. Certainly not worth complaining about, Gerard.
How about that?

There are no prizes for nailing whimsy, Gerard.
The left's critique of Rudd will not help the Coalition. All the Liberals and Nationals can do is to perform as well as possible in a difficult environment. So far, the evidence indicates that they will need to enhance their political skills.

Well, no shit! After a penetrating insight like that you'd expect Henderson to set some performance indicators, and at least show us what political skills might look like. After twelve months of frittering away a strong incumbent government in a time of economic prosperity, you'd expect that Henderson would have identified this lack of political skills a lot earlier.
But there was no obvious reason why [Joe Hockey] saw fit to tell [ABC reporter Liz] Jackson, who is hardly a fan of the Liberal Party, that his colleagues were ignorant about the details of key legislation. A senior Liberal should be able to find a place to download somewhere other than in front of an ABC camera.

This does not go to the question of political skill. Hockey did keep his criticisms to himself, or within Liberal circles, before the election. Fat lot of good it did Hockey or his party, Gerard. It is now fair to question the utility of that tactic.

Some Liberals in the last Howard Cabinet have already gone, having lost their seats. Others, such as Nick Minchin and Peter Costello, won't go and won't stay to make a useful contribution, either. Hockey is right to be frustrated with such people, and right to put this in the forum they can least effectively manage: the public record. The Liberals need to recast their image and insiders have a role in that by putting hitherto unknown facts into the public record.

Jackson doesn't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal to be worthy of an interview. It is a measure of political skill that Hockey should use an experienced, possibly antipathetic journalist so effectively to his own ends. There may come a time when all journalists are to the right of Gerard Henderson, but until then one must do what one can with what one has. Jackson did not - and could not - dictate how her interviews are received by viewers.
Meanwhile, in the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, the Liberal backbencher Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has decided to focus on the domestic pets of the Prime Minister and his wife ... As with her past hyperbolic criticisms of the ABC, Senator Fierravanti-Wells's critique of the Rudds is completely counterproductive and, as such, worse than a mere waste of time.

Now if a journalist - any journalist - made the simple observation that Fierravanti-Wells is a hack and a waste of time, Henderson would hop right into them and onto the bandwagon of lefty journalists. The mistake here is to believe that Fierravanti-Wells is capable of better, and that she has a useful role to play both in holding the Rudd Government to account as well as in shaping the next Liberal Government.

I realise that Henderson hasn't said that Fierravanti-Wells isn't a waste of time - but I'd say that you can't produce any evidence of any contribution she has made that would mitigate such embarrassment to self and party.
... the high employment record of the Howard government will look quite impressive.

Not when you consider the jiggery-pokery used by the Howard government to redefine unemployment.
The Prime Minister and the key economic ministers (Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner) are well aware of the potential difficulties in [wages-driven inflation]. The problem for Rudd Labor is that it sent out a message before the election that working families had suffered as a result of Work Choices ... it would be reasonable to assume that working families expect that they will receive higher remuneration under Rudd than under Howard. This could put greater pressure on wage growth.

The reason why the Liberals lost the last election was because of the jarring dissonance between its two main messages. On one hand, they said that the economy was doing well; on the other hand, the message of WorkChoices is that individual employees may not share in the general prosperity. The message of the Rudd Government is that all that economic sunshine has now led to a spate of economic sunburn and economic melanoma. The idea of interest rate rises is to curb inflation, and it is too early to blithely deem this the failure that Henderson would regard it as. Some of the assumptions that Henderson makes, such as an aggressive and powerful union movement and a centralised wage-setting system, no longer apply.
... it is likely that Labor will suffer some political cost if fuel and electricity prices rise as part of the solution to climate change as envisaged by Garnaut. Such an eventuality should put the Coalition back into the political debate - even if the majority of journalists remains hostile or indifferent to its message.

The quality of state-provided facilities provided by Labor governments has fallen inversely to the costs of maintaining them. Yet, the Liberals are only in the debate as naysayers, for piss-weak parliamentary tactics and internal turmoil. The idea that Kevin Rudd will grow weary and drop government back into the lap of the Coalition is fanciful.
Opposition is invariably difficult.

Many things are difficult, Gerard. Journalists can be sympathetic or unsympathetic, but just as they should be judged as to whether they are applying the appropriate scrutiny, members of the opposition should make sure they measure up to the business of government before deeming the Australian media beneath their dignity. Uncritical support just gets filtered out, which is why Glenn Milne (and, indeed, Gerard Henderson) has not swung a single vote anywhere or anything.
... it is somewhat easier if those in opposition do not trash their own policies (past or present)

They need to do this, Gerard, to demonstrate that they have something to offer voters other than nostalgia. Some people may get hurt in the process, but that's politics.

Da G-dog has complained once again about the existence of leftists in the media, and equated political skill with his own wishes. He thinks the Liberal Party should settle into opposition as one would settle into a comfy armchair, controlling the media remotely. Henderson is being unreasonable about the media - there is no friendly or unfriendly coverage, only different degrees of scrutiny - and setting fanciful and absurd standards for the Liberals. This makes him no better than those he criticises; worse if they take his advice, and worst still if people ignore him.

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