30 May 2012

On the way out

Sometimes I feel I've got to (thump thump) run away
I've got to (thump thump) get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me ...

- Soft Cell Tainted Love
At a time when the government is vulnerable, the Coalition are finally starting to realise that Abbott's limitations are those of the Coalition: they've realised that it really might not win. Abbott is not a tough guy, he's gutless; for a long time that must have seemed counter-intuitive to people who weren't paying attention.

Abbott was right to tell his party room that the Prime Minister won't lie down and die, but he was wrong to draw attention to the fact that this has pretty much been his whole strategy all along. All that Battlelines stuff was so much bluster and fluff, only mugs like Ross Cameron believe in it. Coalition MPs and Senators are the people who have most at stake for the success of both his strategic judgment and execution. Many of them will now realise that Abbott has sold them a dog, and will start to wonder whether or not he can keep the Coalition ahead of Labor for much longer.

Polls are all very well, but they're abstract, and people in the Coalition regard themselves as practical folk impatient with abstractions. Why hasn't he pushed the government out by now? Every day you open The Australian and it's full of Labor people governing, and that doesn't look like changing soon. Since the last election the Coalition have kept their people in line with the belief that any minute now, the government will crack and political fortunes will go the Coalition's way, and all that will be undone should anyone step out of line. People can only spend so long on tenterhooks. A quick chat with the independents would have shown that Abbott is further away from office than he was in September 2010, not closer as he would have them (and the media) believe.

Labor apologised to Aborigines, but unapologetically maintained the Northern Territory intervention with "income management". Labor fought so hard for the ETS, then gave it up. Then they gave up the Prime Minister who beat Howard, and replaced her with that woman. Misogyny aside, it is understandable why they think that Labor is weak. The real trick lies in convincing the press gallery that they're the answer, against all evidence.
The love we share
Seems to go nowhere
And I've lost my light
For I toss and turn I can't sleep at night ...
No Coalition MP on a majority, or needing a swing, of 5% or less can run the risk of having Abbott waddle around their electorate, shaking hands with too tight a grip and generally reminding people why the economic performance of the Gillard government isn't so bad. There is a real risk that the next election could end up as a tit-for-tat exercise like the last one, where the Coalition wins one here and loses one there and before you know it Gillard has negotiated herself back into office.

Rudd served as a stick to beat the government with for a long time, but the stick looked more like limp lettuce after the 31-71 loss to Gillard. Abbott floundered, and Slipper and Thomson were not initially worthy opponents, but for a guy who'd go ten rounds with a revolving door he backed himself to punch through them into government. Abbott took the risk that he could take them quickly, easily, and from the high ground. Abbott gave his all in pursuit of Thomson and Slipper. Every day for weeks and weeks he went in hard.

It turned out Our Lady of the Health Services Union is neither as pure nor as clever as she needed to be, for her sake, for Abbott's, and for a Coalition which has been made to look stupid. Ashby, the honey-trap IED launched at Slipper, has turned and blown up in the face of Christopher Pyne.*

Yes, that indefatigable strategist who made possible the governments of Costello and Turnbull has himself slipped. Even though Pyne's failures are not those of his leader, Abbott cannot get over them. Pyne could and should drop the righteous fury that Abbott dare not show himself, lest he make Mark Latham look about as threatening as Bill Hayden. He should admit his flaws re Ashby and render his life an open book, in the hope of being courageous and even endearing in his chirpy and flamboyant way. If he did that he might win Sturt and have a political career that appears more durable than it does today.

When he appeared on Annabel Crabb's cooking show I didn't watch it because I expected him to come across like Bernard King: as saucy and cheesy on the stove-top as off. By hiding behind Auntie Mandy and admitting that he has no friends in Parliament he seemed as much of a try-hard as his leader. His beetroot-faced exertions in Question Time show that Pyne persists in pushing against a door that's closed to him now. Nobody expects him to distinguish between good government and bad, only what works for Pyne. The case has not been made that what works for the buttoned-up facade he puts forward will work for the rest of us. Watch Sturt on election night.

Part of the reason why you don't engage in gutter attacks is the sheer degree of risk. If you win, your victory is tainted and if you lose, your credibility is shot. Those who had a Christian education, as Abbott and Pyne did, will be aware of the exhortations of Luke 6:37 and Matthew 7:1. Abbott has taken the risk that he will be able to waddle away from it into the arms of those who love him, but the rest of the Coalition will be left no closer to government than they were in 2008. The fact that Thomson and Slipper are not political roadkill mean that the best efforts of Tony Abbott (and Pyne) simply aren't good enough. Those with an interest in the future of the Liberal Party must question whether they will ever be good enough.
Once I ran to you (I ran)
Now I'll run from you
This tainted love you've given
I give you all a boy could give you
Take my tears and that's not nearly all ...
When Thomson approaches Abbott, Abbott flees as though he can simply outrun his failures. It takes a fool to bleat that the nation's defences are insufficient and then entrust them to a shit-happens runaway. Gillard will start getting points for trying to grapple with the big issues once people realise the alternative is Brave Sir Robin.

Hey, the media lap it up. They shrug when he runs away from the odd piercing question at press conferences and are content to let Tony be Tony. Why doesn't everyone else? What is wrong with you people? Michelle Grattan looks stupid both in overestimating the effect of all-but-uniform media framing and in the utility of asking those who made him leader what's wrong with their decision. You can bet that Abbott butters up the old girl something fierce, in the hope that the public is as happy to let the media to do the framing as it was in the 1970s, when Grattan and Abbott learned the trade and what were then its tricks.

People who admire Abbott's toughness and commitment need to contrast it against his judgment, and yes his effectiveness. The jury might have been out in early 2010, or even after the close election result later that year, but enough chickens have now not only hatched but come home to roost that it's well past time to judge Abbott.

Those who blame the media for the unpopularity of the Gillard government cannot explain why Tony Abbott continues to be unpopular. The media love Abbott and have given him a more favourable run than any Opposition Leader, with the possible exceptions of Malcolm Fraser or Kim Beazley. Abbott bends over backwards to ensure that press gallery journalists all have a story to run each day, and to encourage them to run that story instead of whatever the government is putting up. The polls have increased the incentives for journalists to keep in sweet with what they perceive to be the next government, particularly as the incumbents don't flatter them in the same way. No amount of media framing can or will change the perception that Abbott is a jerk, to the point where he'd just fuck anyone and everyone in government except the far right.
Don't touch me please
I cannot stand the way you tease
I love you though you hurt me so
Now I'm gonna pack my things and go ...
The only way the Liberals could win is if they were to stage an intervention. East-coast heavyweights would have to wipe Minchin, Bernardi and Cormann off the map and overturn such preselections as they have won. They would have to punt Mr and Mrs Loughnane and replace them with Tony Nutt, and that would mean that the Baillieu government would lose its main sheet-anchor. I can't see that happening either, everyone who could have made that happen has now gone, and the current federal leader lacks the clout to bring it on himself.

The sheer blind faith within the Coalition and the anti-Gillard media that Abbott has Gillard where he wants her and that his victory is assured is gone now. It will not return. On a human level you have to feel sorry for the guy, like a sprinter cramping up halfway through a marathon. He can't turn up the heat because that only singes him. He certainly can't flick the switch to policy, either. Don't let the door impact you on the way out! As I said on the radio, Labor was never going to smash Abbott but it can wear him down. This isn't the end for Abbott but you can see it from here.
Tainted love, tainted love
Tainted love, tainted love
Touch me baby, tainted love
Touch me baby, tainted love
Tainted love
Tainted love
Tainted love
* No, that's not what I meant. Stop it at once.


  1. What's interesting is that when Abbott said "the Prime Minister won't lie down and die" he gave Gillard a big opening.

    He'll regret saying that, not because it was offensive (he's said many offensive things in the past), but because it's shifted the narrative towards a Prime Minister who is prepared to swim through a river of shit in order to get things done and come out the other side with a smile on her face.

    Like Al Pacino in Scarface, you can fire and fire and fire at her and she's still remains standing and fighting. Abbott is fundamentally incapable of doing this when he's under pressure and I bet behind closed doors, it frightens him to death and I think the PM is about to exploit this for all it's worth.

  2. gold gold gold. Thank you for telling it exactly as it is.

  3. John in Highgate30/5/12 10:50 pm

    Good speech by Julia Gillard tonight In a speech to a Minerals Council of Australia dinner in Canberra,Well delivered.

    Read more: http://www.news.com.au/business/breaking-news/pm-tells-miners-they-dont-own-minerals/story-e6frfkur-1226375578437#ixzz1wMBEsm1g

    1. The Mineral Council of Australia were told by the Prime Minister, what they should have been told long ago.Their full page propaganda about how much tax they are paying on all major newspapers in Australia, is a blatant LIE! What they did not show of course, was their enormous profits graphs alongside their tax ones!In 2008/09 for instance, their graphs indicates that they paid some $26 billions tax.Their profits however amounted to some $190.658 billions! That equates to a tax payment of 13.6%!Their employees working in 50c temperature and dusty conditions are paying 47% tax.
      Gina Nohart (who has made little personal contribution to deserve the obscene profits she is making) was seen screaming herself hoarse like a woman with 6 kids she cant afford to feed,on the back of a truck in Perth some time ago, against the tax.The greed in some of these people has no bound!

    2. One for the ages, John.

  4. Nice post Andrew.
    I don`t usually like or listen to the noise-polls, but I did get a laugh out of Joolya and Mr-Rabbit both have a 60% `dissatisfaction` rating.

    I suspect they will run the Rabbit to the 2013 poll, Do you believe they will have an `intervention`?

    It is also quite strange, the Pro-Rabbit media, which does them no service.

    1. I do not believe anyone has the standing to do an intervention, and I expect Abbott to go to the polls but be much diminished.

  5. Some excellent insights and very well written.

    If our endangered newspapers employed writers such as your good self, they would not be in the shit that they are in now.

  6. Andrew

    I live in Sturt.

    Pyne has always appeared to be a knob to me.

    We've endured endless rounds of postcards of his family and pleas to understand his situation at times when elections were tight. Bloody hell, when his wife pleaded with us to re-elect him because, well, we just had to.

    So he's a knob.

    But I can't quite believe (I mean it's astonishing) how bereft of principal and common sense he now allows himself to be.

    The Germans probably have a word for it, something like 'uber-knob'.

    Mr Spacely

    1. Mr Spacely, I'm so sorry.

      How do your neighbours not bristle and cringe with embarrassment every time he carries on like that? My memories of your community are of how nice it is, and hence how unrepresentative of them Pyne truly is.

    2. I no longer live in Sturt (I've moved a lot closer to work), so I don't need to squirm with embarrassment. It's a nice feeling. Like Mr Spacely, I reckon Pyne's a knob.

      Elizabeth isn't quite as nice as Athelstone (although it's a lot better than people would have you believe), but it's greatly improved by nil quantities of Pyne.

  7. It's hard to believe that a person actually got up and ran like a small child (and even resorted to banging on a door) to avoid doing their job.

    This is a grown man (supposedly) we are talking about.

    Truly unbelievable. For all of Gilliard's faults, I could never see her running away.

  8. Great article.

  9. And the PM re-enforced the "won't lie down and die" strength at last night's MCA dinner.
    Here is the group who the electorate know were the kings in getting Rudd out and there she was telling them "you know how tough I am"
    And followed by the crowd favorite "you don't own the minerals"

    thanks Tony, you probably gave the PM a few more "better PM poll numbers"

    1. Damn right, looks like a plan is coming together.

  10. You are mistaking what you wish for reality. Abbott will be PM. ALP will be annihilated at next election whether it is tomorrow or December 2013.
    As a Rudd supporter I have been bludgeoned by the cries of Gillard supporters as they remind me ad nauseum that "we don't have a Presidential System." They are correct, we don't... so it matters not a jot that Abbott is a dangerous fool... under our system of elections he will become PM with a huge majority... or as it will be described, a "mandate."
    A mandate to undo everything the Gillard government has done.
    All because the ALP cut off its own nose in spite of its face.

    1. Lachlan Ridge31/5/12 4:57 pm

      You are mistaking what you wish for reality, Stephen.

      I hold a candle for none of Rudd, Abbott or Gillard but in the politically disconected yellow shirted world I work in Abbott's antics were a hot topic at work last night, with the dominant theme being "how can I vote for that?"

      Strangely the Gillard minerals comment was mentioned by a few guys who listen to Hitz 106FM, where it even made the tabloid news.

      No one loved Howard, but they grudgingly respected him (and pocketed the loot). I'm sensing a similar view of Gillard - a world where it's simultaneously possible to loathe and vote for the same person. We've done it before.

      And check your calendar. It's 2012 and your sociopathic hero ain't comin' back.

  11. Tones has blown his political brains out with that stunt in Parliament yesterday.

    Stick a fork in his arse and turn him over, he's done.

  12. What must the 49 per cent of the party who despise Abbott have been thinking as he tried - and failed, let's not forget - to run away from the House of Representatives?

    Can this farce of an opposition really continue for much longer before someone in the Liberal Party stands up to save the party? It's getting beyond embarrassing.

  13. If Labor can just hold their nerve for a few more months and really stick it to the liberals as their scare campaigns and overblown aggression start to unravel I think you might be right. The only thing that could save Abbott from his well deserved collapse will be a Rudd intervention causing the government to completely disintegrate.

  14. I'd like to see you devote a post to what Labor can do to reverse its situation. Particularly the absolute loathing some people have towards Gillard.

    As for Tony, well I have followed this blog for two years and yesterday's flight pretty much validates your entire analysis. All those (old, male) commentators who regularly summon up these indignant, hyperbolic prognoses of Labor's fortunes owe it to their (nonexistent) professional credibility to slam Abbott for such a pathetic and undignified scramble.

    1. pk, Rudd was loathed, Howard was loathed, Keating was loathed, go back through the list and you'll find somebody who loathes every former PM there was.

      Labor need to get points for trying, which means they need to show they're trying, rather than just lobbing faits accompli at us as per conventional media strategy.

  15. Andrew, let me preface this by saying that I dearly, dearly hope you are right, and your blog is an absolute tonic compared to the rest of the media shit every day.

    But... couldn't your argument work just as well the other way around? Abbott's position has been guaranteed in the Liberal party for as long as they feel a breath away from government, with an election or collapse of the ALP any second now. When Slipper defected, it was undeniably clear that the ALP were going to go the full term, and patience was visibly wearing thin in the Coalition as they stared down the barrel of another two full years in opposition.

    This was the moment that Abbott was arguably the weakest he has been since becoming leader. This was the time that Gillard and co should have pressed the attack and ground away at his support. But they didn't. Or not much. And now Abbott is still there, and resolutely going to lead them to the next election. That was the critical moment to shave strips of Abbott's support and it didn't happen.

    So much as Abbott has missed opportunities to strike lethal blows against the government in their moments of vulnerability, the same applies in reverse. There just isn't enough mongrel in the ALP to take down an attack dog like Abbott.

    But here I finish where I start. I hope you are right.

  16. Abbott's position is guaranteed until the next election, which they will lose. He hasn't missed opportunities to attack the government, he just hasn't been effective. I think they are finding their mongrel, and as I've said they will wear him down rather than break him.