27 July 2010

She stoops to conquer?

Many people have been disappointed that Gillard hasn't been more of a visionary leader, and I'm one of them. However, I wonder if she's deliberately downplaying the scope of what she wants to achieve because her number one task at the moment is to beat Tony Abbott. Having done that, all things are possible.

Tony Abbott gnaws away at issues and then retreats, only to pop up somewhere else. This is, ironically, the kind of guerilla tactics developed and put to lethal effect by insurgents such as Michael Collins and Kim Il Sung. It does not encourage sensible, measured policies that Australians like, want and will vote for. It is not a strategy designed to inspire confidence in the insurgent's capacity to lead, it is designed for desperate people with nothing to lose.

Australians are not desperate people with nothing to lose, but those who are members of the Liberal Party and who believe in the immediate restoration of the Howard-Costello government (but without Howard or Costello) clearly are.

Abbott's way of working hides his lack of an overarching vision. This way of working works on the rugby pitch and the boxing ring, and assumes that the other party will at least turn up - and if they don't, you can win by default and play merry hell with their reputation.

This way of working can be negated only by engaging with it and beating it. Turning the tax bogey against Abbott is a good start. It takes skill and hard work, but this approach is vulnerable to the slow grind of repeated failure and the costs of copping the blows without any benefits to show for it. Only fools would follow Abbott through the valley of the shadow of death, and Liberals won't do so for long: particularly if they end up losing seats.

Tony Abbott was elected leader because polling showed Malcolm Turnbull would lead the Liberal Party backwards. If Labor end up with a net gain of seats from the Coalition, plus a Senate presence that means the Liberals can't effectively veto the big issues like climate change and tax, then Abbott has failed.

The Abbott tactic of a niggle here, a media stunt there works on a rattled and defensive government. It worked to undermine Nelson and Turnbull, and it worked on Rudd. It need not work on a government secure of its place in the sunlit uplands, with years to go before re-election. Liberals are right to hope that Arbib, Feeney and Shorten will keep Labor rattled internally by ongoing polling and destabilisation, but those characters now that one can overplay one's hand (and after Labor get slaughtered in NSW you'd expect the contingent from that state to be very, very quiet for a while at least).

Tim Colebatch put it best when he said:

It's not the immigration program that's out of control. It's Abbott's inability to distinguish between opposition and opportunism.

Quite so. This need not mean that Gillard has to join him in the gutter - until you realise that a short but sustained campaign of opposition is exactly what's needed to knock him out of the game, decisively and for all time, and the only way to do so. Ironically, it's the very strategy that Abbott himself used against Pauline Hanson in the late '90s. Nobody likes the taste of their own medicine but to Abbott it could prove fatal.

Gillard beating Abbott at his own game will be a psychic blow from which he cannot and will not recover. It will see the Howard veterans storm the exits or be left in the dust, Love Parade style. It will mean that the Liberals will have to deal with major issues that they have so far fudged while still insisting on their capacity to govern this country. If Gillard fails to lift her game, it will mean that the Liberals can develop policies to address those major issues in a vacuum; if Gillard does lift, they can keep up and overtake her when she stumbles. The end of Abbott will mean that the bankruptcy of the niggle, the dog-whistle and the knee-jerk no is complete. Bring it on.


  1. You're probably better off putting Mao Tse-Tung or Ho Chi Minh in for Kim Il-Sung - the former wrote the book on that sort of stuff while Kim's winning strategy was 'rely on big allies to bail you out'.

  2. Take your point, but considering Abbott's record the Kim analogy is quite apt.

  3. Valerie said....

    Agree with you but how does Gillard recover from the almost daily vengeful leaks from her own side and the incessant campaign by the Murdoch media. At this point do you still think Abbott is dead, buried and cremated?

  4. derrida derider28/7/10 11:49 am

    I think both sides of politcs ar pursuing their optimal strategies for election at the moment.

    Abbott is a very effective Opposition Leader, and given the circumstances she finds herself in Gillard has little option but to choose political cowardice at every turn.

    I think both sides would look very different in government than they do now. Gillard would want to repair links with her base and also accommodate the Greens more - she'll look more like a traditional Labor PM.

    Abbott's government would be run by ugly old men who would ignore what people actually voted for and try and drag the country far-right, but without Howard's patience or wiliness. They'd be one-termers.

    Both governments, of course, would continue to be constrained by the need to accommodate the country's traditional owners - the business lobbies.

  5. Valerie: there is a difference between what fascinates the journosphere and what fascinates the rest of us, that's why media consumption is falling and credibility is falling faster.

    dd: I think your middle paragraph is spot on. The second-last paragraph is right in that it would spell the end of the Liberals for a very long time, but the final par is bogus. Who do you think you are, John Pilger?