08 August 2010

Cheering for the underdog

Labor have stumbled and bumbled their campaigning, they've been skittish and disconcertingly coy about what they have achieved in office. In NSW and Queensland, the Coalition stand to win eight seats each - bringing them one short of the total they need to secure government (making WA more pivotal than it tends to be in national elections). Labor should be gone for all money: why aren't they? Why is there a real chance that a poor campaign with an appalling political backstory will be rewarded with victory?

The journosphere has been obsessed with Rudd. This is because Rudd played the media game and so does Abbott, whereas Gillard hasn't buttered up the press gallery - and if she wins, will be less inclined to do so. Laurie Oakes in particular has railed against his own irrelevance by going after Gillard, and fat lot of good it's done him or Channel 9 (which used to rival the ABC as a serious news outlet). Just as Latham helped Howard with his crushing handshake, he has equally unwittingly helped Gillard show herself as adept in dealing with bullies. If only Latham would square up to Abbott, it would not only make Michael Duffy (author of Hot for Boofheads: A Joint Hagiography) hyperventilate but show that they are the same sort of person at heart, and that's all Labor needs.

Tony Abbott has led a united party. He's targeted economics both in general and in terms of household budgets. His criticisms of the government have gone without serious challenge for months. Abbott has done everything you need to do from a campaign perspective to set up not just a victory, but a landslide - right now Liberals should be in the same position federally as they are in NSW. And yet ...

Abbott has not done what I suggested he do - go completely rightwing and present himself as true to what he is. Not dance away from Battlelines but fulfilling it, good and hard. What he's done is go all mealy-mouthed to the point where Adele Horin thinks he's a moderate:

"That's what people do when they are mature people," Abbott said last week. "They are capable of growing and changing in response to changing circumstances."

Now we attempt to square the circle and see Abbott trying to present himself as a mature person, rather than a flake who'll say whatever he needs to say and do whatever the hell he likes. Horin presents the difference between what he says and what he does as some sort of conundrum: he hasn't changed, grown or matured since 1979. He hasn't got Labor by the throat because there's something you can't trust about Abbott. That "action contract" stuff looks like a prospectus from a dodgy real estate trust. The boy-who-never-grew-up charm didn't work for Andrew Peacock, why would it work for Tony Abbott?

At the Liberal launch today, I particularly liked the laughter at the idea of Julie Bishop as a loyal deputy.

This is the ad Labor should have run from day one:

It is the ad John Howard and Graeme Morris and Lynton Crosby would have run: the opposition are a risk, stick with the incumbents. It is telling that this ad is not coming from official Labor, but from the ACTU: it is as though the club officials have burst from the private boxes onto the field and started kicking goals, because the players and coaches are so frustratingly incompetent.

Speaking of incompetent, Jenny Macklin wants to have Aborigines in the Constitution but she hasn't followed through on something much more straightforward like the Little Children Are Sacred report, much less sorted the gold from the dross in the Northern Territory Intervention.

Macklin isn't the norm for her party, but if she crossed the fence she'd be a veritable beacon of competence (and right up there with Peter Howson in terms of tangible benefits for Aborigines). I hope we are in the final days of Macklin's tenure in public life, but I'm more certain (and more grateful) that Peak Abbott is also behind us. People are giving Gillard the benefit of the doubt because, for all her shortcomings, she's not as shifty as Abbott.

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