25 July 2010

Dead, buried, cremated

Tony Abbott has already lost the election. He needed to win a dozen seats to secure the most bare majority on 21 August, but it just can't happen regardless of the debate later on.

During the RSPT fiasco it looked as though Labor would lose all four of its seats in WA, and probably that many again in Queensland. That would have, could have put him more than half way there.

If John Howard had been Liberal leader this year, he would have been all over Perth and mid-north Queensland like a rash, building presence and momentum that would have survived any Labor deal with the major miners. What Howard (or Turnbull for that matter) would not have done is prance around Sydney in sluggos while a political opportunity went begging. The very idea that the Libs stand to lose a seat to a minister from the despised former WA state Labor government is mind-boggling.

Then there was WorkChoices. If he wanted to restore it, or banish it forever, or tinker with it a bit, he needed to have a reason why. A generation of so-called political professionals has dismissed the idea of a rationale - even a principle - behind policy-making. Where that dismissal leads you is where the Libs are now: flying by the seat of their pants, straight into the turf.

John Roskam's piece in Friday's AFR attempted to imply that the business community was seething about the failure of a schoolkid to keep working at a part-time job after school, but at least he's trying. What was really happening there was an act of bastardry by Joe de Bruyn's SDA against the youth of Australia, in which he had nobbled any source of opposition to his wacky scheme to make retail a career for the desperate (who are likely to join the union) rather than a transition phase for young people (who aren't). At least, though, Roskam tried to put it in context, even if he honoured CIS/IPA traditions by getting it wrong.

That arrogant dismissal of an overarching context for policy in NSW gave the Liberal Party four successive losses from 1995 to 2007. It will do the same to Abbott, the anti-intellectual Rhodes Scholar, the minister with a decade's experience who is making every rookie mistake in the book.

Then there was the half-hearted and half-baked speech about the women in his life. It sounded like they were all the women he needed, thanks very much, and Julie Bishop was disingenuous at best in introducing him. It reminded me of all those pictures of Labor women in 2004 lining up to kiss Mark Latham, except there are clearly some things Liberal women won't do. The visuals were all about dirt and trucks. For a game-changer you need persistence and follow-through, and while you can blame it on the news-cycle you can't blame journalists for lacking attention if there's no substance to focus on.

It's not good enough for Abbott to "act decisively" against a pinhead like this. Abbott has spent twenty years puffing up people like that, making them feel like they had a real place in national campaigns and other forms of big-league politics:

"But I don’t know if we want at this stage in Australian politics a Muslim in the parliament and an atheist running the government."

If you don't know, keep your trap shut. It also looks like this is conditional on time, as though there might come a time when there are too few atheists and Muslims in Parliament, and personally I'd be fascinated to know what such conditions might be.

Abbott will go on like this of course. He's come this far and even people like Andrew Robb or Brian Loughnane have not yet summoned up the courage to tell him where he's going wrong. They'll get there eventually and they'll have all these reasons and more, but now is the time to try and pilot the plane away from the ground.

This all depends upon Labor not tracing the same trajectory of failure. Paul Daley is right about Latham's piece in Friday's AFR being a cut-out-n-keep on the modern ALP, but I hope they're both wrong about Gillard. It seems that she's trying to shut down debates on immigration, infrastructure and climate change - debates she can't win within the next four weeks, but which might benefit from clearer political air. You can forgive her for winning dumb if - if - she governs smart.

What is said in the election campaign itself only counts for journalists. Nobody else believes it and no vote turns on it. People are giving Gillard the benefit of the doubt assuming that her governing will be better than her campaigning. Nobody gives Abbott the benefit because everything gets worse if he's vindicated - but he won't be.

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