What is making Labor stalwarts gloomy?

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Friday, 25 May 2012 17:25 by Ad astra
It no longer surprises us that Graham Richardson (Richo) emits gloom about Labor whenever he appears in the media. He knows on which side his bread is buttered. While he may believe what he says, he says it with such conviction and enthusiasm that the casual observer could be excused for thinking he is a dyed-in-the-wool Coalition advocate rather that an ex-Labor minister, and a high ranking one at that. Anyone who has read his fascinating 2005 book The Latham Diaries will understand why Mark Latham is ready to throw mud at Labor whenever he can. He believes he was dudded by his colleagues and badly let down by the party machine, especially during the 2004 election campaign which Labor lost, gaining only 60 seats to the Coalition’s 76. For him, revenge on his old party is sweet.

But it was disturbing when several Labor stalwarts, speaking before and during the recent ACTU conference, expressed so much gloom about Labor’s current situation and its electoral prospects. One such stalwart was Bill Kelty, who has given so much to the Labor Party for so many years. During his address he said: “It’s too easy to blame the media, too easier to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing, what after all, you’d expect them to do and that’s to beat you.”

I was dismayed that such a Labor icon could give the media in this country a free kick, a media that pours its malevolence over our PM and our Government day after day - not all of the media, but well over the seventy percent of it owned by Rupert Murdoch. I was disappointed too that in those few words he had let the Coalition off the hook. We all know that the job of an opposition is to beat the government, but does that permit it to mount the most vicious, malignant, toxic personal campaign of denigration and demonization of our PM and our Government, and of particular individuals, that we have seen in recent Australian political history? No. I thought at the time it was imprudent for Kelty to use those words, and I still do.

What is equally distressing is that those two sentences were the ones seized upon by the media. They were the ones that got the column inches, the radio news coverage, and the TV slots. Do you know what else Bill Kelty said? If not, let me tell you. I doubt if you would have picked this up in any of our media, determined, as is so much of it, to destroy our elected Government and its leader.

Here is what he said a few sentences later:

And it is also too easy to accept defeat. Too easy to say the Labor Party will not win.

“I remember Bob Hawke coming back from a Labor Party conference in which the headlines of the Sun was “Hawke finished. Never again will his name be mentioned as a future Prime Minister”. And I talked to Bob; I said how did you go? He said “shithouse”. I said, what are you going to do? He said, "I’m gonna regroup, I’m gonna rebuild, learn from what mistakes I made, but Bill I will be the Prime Minister".

“And he was.”

Kelty then talked about Paul Keating:

I sat with Paul Keating one day, when he wasn’t feeling particularly well that day. And he said, "It might be too hard Bill. I’ve got the wrong end of the political cycle".

“I won’t tell you all he said… But I said, "There’s never been an economist
[John Hewson], elected as Prime Minister yet, mate, and there won’t be. You can beat him…you can beat him".

“And he did.

Kelty recalls a phone call from Keating at that time: ”He said, “I’m gonna win, mate”... I said, “that’s good, now why are you gonna win.”

“And he said, “Hewson made this speech. And the speech he made, he said, ‘this country, for too long, has stopped to pick up the people. Stopped to care too much for people’.” >

“He said, “By the time I’m finished with him, mate, he’ll be picking up himself.”

Did anyone read that rallying cry of Kelty in the press; how many of you heard it in radio bulletins or in TV clips?

This is what Labor now needs, not the negative emissions of the prophets of doom, the merchants of gloom and despair. What a difference it would have made to Kelty’s speech if he had left unsaid the comments about the media and the Coalition, and simply hammered home the encouraging words of Hawke and Keating!

This is my starting point. Confident words, the words of those two great leaders, words that lift spirits and give hope. And I will summon logic and reasoning to make the case that Labor will win in 2013, rather than offer you just wishful thinking.

The polls
Of all the evidence that the doomsters use for their dire prognostications, opinion polls of voting intention are by far the most potent. Polling companies prosper by running frequent polls and feeding the results to media outlets, some of which actually own the polling organizations. With often more than one poll a week, there is ample fodder for hungry columnists, some of whom have become poll experts whose word is gospel, or so they believe. Poll commentary is easy journalism, it fills column inches, and it serves the commercial, and often the ideological objectives of the media outlets.

Those who understand polling, the assumptions underlying polls, the statistical manipulations that take place, and the limitations of polling, attest that polls of voting intention so far from the next scheduled election are not predictive. That cannot and do not tell us who will win the next election. They tell us only what has happened in the past, or is happening now. That is why commentators preface their comments with: “If an election were to be held today, the result would be…” But it is not being held today. It will likely be held eighteen months from now, when the polls have a chance of being more predictive. Why do commentators persist with this monotonous charade? Because it makes plausible copy for papers, radio and TV, and because they believe the people will swallow it. More sinisterly, because it often suits their political purposes, which for many is the removal of the Gillard Government.

So while poll commentators and news writers would have us give credence to their offerings, can we please ignore them for at least another twelve months? Look at the trends by all means, but not individual polls. They mislead, feed into the next poll, seriously distort thinking about the parties, and tell us nothing about how they will rate in eighteen months. We know that polls always narrow as the election approaches, and in federal elections, notwithstanding substantial gaps between the parties beforehand, the gap narrows to just a few points. Federal elections are close, as will be the 2013 election, not the catastrophic landslide the pundits now predict.

There are of course other parameters polled such as approval/disapproval ratings, preferred PM, and opinions about a host of other issues. Because the popularity ratings reflect TPP scores, it is likely that the leader of the least preferred party contemporaneously will be unpopular. So let’s not place much store on Julia Gillard’s current ratings, as the commentators would have us do. They use these spurious figures to stir up talk of leadership change, which is always great copy, especially for the tabloids. We have had enough media speculation about leadership change to last us a lifetime. The media knows that low popularity, and murmurings from the Nervous Nellies in the Labor Party who seem to see no harm in backgrounding marauding journalists with their fears and their desire for a change to a leader that they feel might give them a better chance in their marginal seats, is a powerful combination. Leadership speculation is on again this week! Ignore all this leadership talk. Despite the confident predictions of Richo and his News Limited mates, Julia Gillard is going nowhere. There is no one else. And the game of asking the people about their preferred leader and throwing up Kevin Rudd and sundry others as alternatives is as stupid as it is malevolent. Forget this charade too.

In summary, forget the polls. Look at the Government’s performance.

Strong Government performance
Any reasonable observer of the Gillard Government’s performance in passing legislation would rate it as good. With over three hundred of pieces already passed by mid term, this result surpasses by far anything achieved by the last government. And they have included major reforms to taxation, industrial relations, health, disability, education, business, manufacturing, mining, agriculture, climate change, the renewables industry, and environmental sustainability. There have been no failures. The only motions not passed have been a couple of inconsequential procedural ones.

The Gillard Government is an active, fast moving, reforming one. While some of its achievements have filtered out to the public gaze, they have not had much coverage in the conventional media, and as journalists like to tell us so often, even our ABC journalists, the Government’s good news has been ‘overshadowed’ by scandals or other salacious events, or that Julia Gillard ‘could not escape questions’ about Craig Thomson or Peter Slipper, or any other distraction, which the media itself creates to corrupt the dialogue about policy and achievements. What hope has the Government got in the face of the hostile, sensationalist media in this country?

Only this week the OECD gave Australia’s economy a very glowing report, rating it as one on the best among advanced economies, even predicting it would surpass the US economy as the safest in the world for investors. This is the economy the Rudd/Gillard Government shielded from the GFC, one that it has fostered since into one with unemployment, interest rates, and inflation all under five percent. Yet how much front-page publicity does this get in the tabloids. None. Even the broadsheets give little exposure of Australia’s outstanding position and performance. The good news is buried.

Our high performance Government gets far too little credit, too little positive publicity. How long can this disregard for the truth continue to give way to the media goals of titillation, sensation, and entertainment? Surely as an election approaches the public must be given a truthful account of what the Gillard Government has done, and its fiscal performance getting the Budget into surplus, alongside what the Coalition is promising and the cost of its promises. To do otherwise would be a travesty.

I believe we ought to expect a more honest appraisal of both sides from the media as the election approaches, and that will tilt people towards the Government that gets things done, and away from the Coalition that won’t tell us what their policies are and what they will cost. We know that if the media ever gets round to forensically putting the policies and costings of Abbott and his frontbench under the microscope, their paltry, disingenuous house of cards will collapse.

We know that there is much leeway to make up after all the adverse publicity the media has given the Government, but believe me, a reversal is not just possible, it is probable.

The Government’s strong performance will be its main selling point come election time.

The scare campaign will peter out
Much of the antagonism against Julia Gillard has emanated from the carbon tax, that ‘toxic’ tax that she ‘promised’ she would not initiate. Apart from the ‘broken promise’ mantra that Tony Abbott and his sycophants have echoed unremittingly, his obscenely deceitful scaremongering has led people to believe that with the carbon tax the cost of electricity and everything else will go up, and up, and up, even before it starts. Whole industries will close down, ghost towns will cover the nation, Whyalla will be wiped out, and our economy will be decimated as our competitiveness plummets.

We know none of this will happen. We know that the compensation for ninety percent of the people for the extra costs generated by the tax will exceed the actual increase in costs, which will on average be less than ten dollars a week. We know pensioners will be well compensated with a substantial increase in their pensions, and the tax-free threshold will be raised to $18,000, relieving over a million taxpayers from submitting a tax return. Trade exposed industries will receive carbon credits that in many instances will effectively reduce the cost per tonne of carbon emitted from the set price of $23 to just a dollar or two.

In effect, both the people and industry will come to realize in the second half of this year that Tony Abbott has been running a giant hoax, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt everywhere he speaks. The effects of this scaremongering has gone well beyond frightening people out of their wits about rising costs, it has been a major contributor to the fall in consumer and business confidence. Abbott swings his wrecking ball wildly and indiscriminately, careless of its potential to devastate our economy.

By the time the election arrives, the electorate will have become aware it has been sold a pup, and will turn on Abbott and his lies and deceit. As Abraham Lincoln said: “You may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.” Abbott has fooled the people for too long; when they catch him out, they will punish him severely.

Time will be on Labor’s side as Abbott’s deceit is steadily exposed, and the electorate will turn savagely on him and the Coalition.

Deteriorating State Coalition governments
There has been much talk about the Labor brand being tarnished, even toxic, especially with big defeats in State elections in New South Wales and Queensland, and by one seat in the usually strong Labor state of Victoria. Since until recently there were wall-to wall Labor governments, it ought not surprise us that the people tired of Labor and looked for the alternative. When Federal Labor goes to the next election, there will be at least four State Coalition governments.

Quite apart from the Aussie aversion to the same party in power everywhere, these Coalition/LNP governments will have started to get up the nose of the electorate.

Barry O’Farrell’s government is already on the nose over its attrition of the public service. It is wrestling with corruption, has sacked parliamentary secretary Steve Cansdell, and is accused by Opposition Leader John Robertson of already breaking 200 promises.

The one-year-old Baillieu Government is under fire for its lacklustre performance, its poor record in job creation, and its savage cuts of $300 million to TAFE funding, especially in regional areas, with a projected loss of 2000 jobs. Ted Baillieu’s popularity has dropped sharply, the polls have narrowed, and one of his ministers, Geoff Shaw, is under investigation accused of using his parliamentary car on interstate trips for his hardware business.

Even in its first few months, Campbell Newman’s LNP Government has attracted criticism for its funding cuts, the scrapping of the Premier’s Literary Awards, and assuming tough strike-breaking powers.

In the West where Colin Barnett musters support every time he challenges the Federal Government over GST funding or the mining tax, or talks of secession, his Coalition Government is not in as good a shape as when it was elected.

Now none of this slippage is serious yet, or the misdemeanours hanging offenses, certainly not in our political system, but give these governments another eighteen months and the electorate will be tiring of them, and the Coalition/LNP brand will be tarnished, maybe even toxic.

The people will be aware that despite all the bold promises, these conservative governments are no better than the alternative. That will favour Labor.

The Great Abbott Unhinging
This will perhaps prove to be the most potent force in changing the balance of popularity and support for the two major parties.

Despite the good polls for the Coalition that the pundits attribute to Tony Abbott’s ‘brilliant’ strategy of unremitting negativity, obstructionism, and malevolent attacks on Julia Gillard, in a parliamentary sense he is an abject failure. He has not defeated one piece of legislation this term, and has caused the deferral of a tiny handful of bills, only with the help of the Greens. He has not landed a blow on Julia Gillard, who has wiped the floor with him in the House. With the help of Anthony Albanese she has frustrated his every attempt to subvert the business of the House. While she is calm, confident and assured, as well as witty, acerbic and scornful of him, he has become increasingly angry, frustrated, desperate, and ineffectual, almost frothing at the mouth with fury and venom as he sees his opportunity to seize power steadily slipping away.

His recent attacks have centered on the saga of Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper. While he would hardly have bothered had the Gillard Government had a substantial majority, he has attacked relentlessly on the grounds that the Gillard Government is illegitimate, minority government a failure, and he ought to be in The Lodge.

This week Abbott has seemingly become more and more unhinged as he rants and rages, moves motions to suspend standing and sessional orders, now nearly sixty times without success, and tries to bludgeon the Government into making moves, or the PM into making statements, all of his attempts unsuccessful. Yesterday’s grotesque performance in the House starkly exposed Abbott’s dark inner self, his desperation, his extreme viciousness.

He is regularly outmanoeuvered by Anthony Albanese, despite the best efforts of Abbott’s attack dog Christopher Pyne, who comes close to apoplexy again and again as he raises points of order or moves spurious motions. Abbott seems to have no concern for the time of parliamentarians, or the processes of the house in the pursuit of his malicious and destructive objectives.

In the matter of Craig Thomson he seems willing, even determined to trash our sacred conventions of the rule of law, the separation of powers, the presumption of innocence, and the proper processes of the parliament in the pursuit of his single-minded intent to upend Julia Gillard and her Government and seize power for himself and the Coalition. And despite his recent words of concern about Thomson’s health, Abbott’s behaviour is one of callous disregard as he pursues him relentlessly, no matter what the cost. Read what Barrie Cassidy had to say about this on The Drum in The alarm bells ring, but precious few heed them.

Abbott has gone over the top, and the further he goes the more he will alienate the electorate, which is giving strong signals that it is tired of this saga and wants it to disappear, wants it over. Yet, Abbott refuses to let go. It’s all he’s got and he will not retreat even as he sees events turning against him. He knows only aggression, only fight, just as I described in The pugilist politician written just ten days after his election. It will be his downfall. It is all he has to offer, and the people don’t want it. Even the media has begun to move on, realizing that the saga has many months, perhaps years to run, and the dramatic final outcome it is seeking is still far away. Barrie Cassidy expressed this view yesterday in his regular summing up of Federal politics on ABC 774 Melbourne radio. The media thrives on fast moving drama – when the pace slows, its interest wanes. Other dramas take over. But Abbott hangs on. He will find himself beating a hollow drum all alone.

It is Abbott’s behavior, a behavior he will not or cannot change, that will become his anchor, more and more firmly stuck in mud of his own creation, one that will hold him back while Julia Gillard and her Government steam away leaving him floundering in its wake.

Why then are some Labor stalwarts gloomy? I believe it is because they have become entangled in the web of deception perpetrated by the media about Labor’s prospects. Based largely on the polls, and propelled by a political agenda, that of removing the Gillard Government, the media has consistently predicted the annihilation of Labor at the next election, and is doing so to this day. Our stalwarts have been afflicted with the same infectious groupthink as have many journalists.

In past issues of The Political Sword I have asserted that although the Gillard Government is battling both a hostile media as well as a truculent Opposition, it will win the 2013 election. This piece gives some cogent reasons why I believe this to be so.

Forget the polls, observe the Gillard Government’s performance, watch the scare campaign peter out, detect how the State conservative governments wane in popularity and attract distrust, and above all watch Tony Abbott become unhinged, watch him self destruct as he overreaches, watch the vitriol he spews over Julia Gillard day after day wash back to poison him, watch his desperation reach an explosive crescendo that will destroy him. Then you will see why Julia Gillard will win in 2013.

Let’s embrace the optimism and determination of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and win.

What to you think?