Dear Malcolm

Now that the tumultuous last week of parliamentary sitting is behind you, I suppose it’s a time for reflection.  Time for you to ask: ‘How am I doing?’  Time to check the compass, time to contemplate how to achieve better outcomes – unless of course you’re quite satisfied with your direction and your progress.  Which you may well be.  With a reputed ego as large as yours and with the superabundant self-confidence you’re said to have, you may consider improvement unnecessary, except of course at the edges. [more]

Making judgements about performance is problematic – it depends who you ask. When journalists ask your party colleagues about you or question your performance, the answer is universally – ‘Malcolm is doing a great job’.  It’s so easy to believe that talk.  If your opponents are asked, they have less complimentary things to say, but you’d ignore their views anyway.  When journalists give their views you may note them, but it’s easy to attribute any adverse opinion to their biases.  But what about those polled by the opinion pollsters?  We all know the flaws of opinion polls, but when several pollsters all portray the same picture over a long period maybe they’re telling us something important.  You’ll probably say polls come and go, polls go up and down, that you’re not poll-driven and that the only poll that counts is on election day.  Sure.  But even one as confident as you seem to be could hardly ignore them month after month when they continue to give the same message.

When you began your campaign to replace Brendan Nelson on the day he was elected leader, no doubt you put him on probation subject to his performance, and one of the criteria would have been his position in the opinion polls.  Indeed several of your colleagues, loudest among them Tony Abbott, insisted that if Nelson’s poor poll ratings did not improve he would come under close scrutiny by party members.  And he did.  I suppose you would expect them to give you similar scrutiny.

Well, in several aspects the polls, singly or in aggregate, are now no better than when you replaced Nelson.  To the nearest integer, the 2PP on Possum Pollytics Pollytrack, which aggregates four polls, is running at 57/43, and if you look at  Pollytics Pollytrend, which portrays the 2PP trend you’ll see that the curve, after a dip in your favour after you assumed leadership, has returned to the Nelsonesque levels we saw in May.  On the preferred PM stakes you have not sunk to the single digit levels of Nelson, but at 20% and Kevin Rudd over 60%, he is three times more preferred.  Your satisfaction less dissatisfaction rating has been deteriorating steadily since you took over and now threatens to go negative; indeed in one poll it has.  You haven’t quite plumbed the depths Nelson did, but you’re getting there.  And when supplementary questions are asked, you don’t do any better there.  Even the Coalition’s ‘better economic manager’ status has slipped to level with the Government, and when asked who is best to manage the GFC, the Government comes out well ahead, as it does on most other parameters.

Now I mention all this to suggest to you that the voters polled are increasingly unimpressed with you and your performance, and if you were in Nelson’s situation, with a suitable alternative breathing down your neck coveting your leadership every day, your party members might be taking a hard look at your performance and looking for a replacement.  You’re fortunate that the only threat to you is Peter Costello, but as he’s playing cat and mouse with us all about his ultimate leadership intentions, he’s not an immediate danger to you.  So you’ve got a little breathing space to reflect on your situation.

If you give any credence to opinion polls, you’d have to concede that a solid majority of those polled are impressed with what the Government is doing, and enamoured of Kevin Rudd as PM.  Of course you may be of like mind to Tony Abbott that the electorate is still sleepwalking, and continues in its delusional state believing it has elected a good government, and that eventually it will awake to the horror of a hopelessly incompetent bungling government it has given office.  That you believe this is evidenced by your persistent denigration of the PM, Wayne Swan and Government ministers. You’ve been haranguing them for months and only last week you declared Rudd an incompetent speaker, Swan an incompetent Treasurer, that together they have bungled the financial crisis by mistake after mistake that has ‘made a bad situation worse’.  You insist that their ‘cash splash’ will do little if any good, but will certainly plunge the country into prolonged debt.  You labelled Nicola Roxon incompetent in her handling of the alcopops issue; even Julia Gillard copped your tongue.  Not able to call her incompetent, you condemned her ‘stubbornness’ in not accepting your key amendment about the number of employees that define a small business.  You called Joel Fitzgibbon incompetent over the SAS pay affair and called for his sacking, although you know the problem was within the Defence Department bureaucracy.  You’ve moved several censure motions against the PM over his supposed inadequacies. 

And today as the PM and Treasurer report that the economy continues to contract, you are loudly proclaiming that such a contraction is a sure sign that the stimulus package is a failure.  It must have occurred to your Rhodes scholar intellect that without the package the situation could have been much worse, but of course to acknowledge that would undermine the power of your rhetoric.

You give the Government no credit, no approval, no support, no endorsement, as if everything the Government is doing is wrong, foolhardy, ill-advised or just plain stupid.  You speak of its inadequacies with such confidence that you must expect us to believe they are wrong and you are right.  Do you ever ask how all the expertise and wisdom resides only in you, and none has found its way to them?  If the opinion polls are to be believed, the majority of those polled either aren’t listening to you, or if they are, they don’t believe what you say about the Government.

You seem to oppose everything: the bank guarantee after supporting the concept in a more modest form, the first stimulus package after initially supporting it, the Fair Work bill after you declared WorkChoices dead and that the Government had a mandate to implement it, the alcopops bill because it’s just a ‘tax grab’, the CPRS because it’s a ‘job killer’ and ‘will do no good environmentally’, although you have said Australia must have an ETS.  Your language is so overblown with absolutes – nothing the Government does is right, everything is wrong.

Yet the people still give the PM and his Government a big tick, and the balanced journalists give credit where credit is due.  How are they so wrong and you so right?

Dear Malcolm, I’m coming to the point of this memo.  There’s an old adage, resurrected by devotees of neuro-linguistic programming, which says: “If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different.”  If the opinion polls are any guide, what you’re doing is not working.  So why not try something different?  I’m surprised your minders have not suggested this.  Maybe they have, but you may think you know best.

I’ve a recipe.  Take a large measure of humility, add a spoonful of something mildly saccharine to take off the acerbic edge, mix with a handful of sage ideas strained to remove any arrogance or barbs, add a generous portion of agreeableness, mix in some sincere collaboration, simmer gently with a pinch of good humour, flavour with goodwill, season with statesmanship, and serve in generous portions during parliamentary debate with an engaging smile at times when it’s most likely to be palatable.

If you do this regularly, you may find that things will turn around for you.  You may find it’s a more productive way of operating and that it beats adversarial behaviour hands down.  You may find it enjoyable.  It may even change your life.

Uncle Tom
McHaigh’s Folly
Oban, Scotland

PS

If you feel I’m off key, that politics is all hurly burly and may the best man win, read what Robert Menzies had to say about politics in an article in the New York Times in 1948: “I believe that politics is the most important civil activity to which a man may devote his character, his talents and his energy.  We must in our own interest elevate politics into statesmanship and statecraft.  We must aim at a condition of affairs in which we shall no longer reserve the dignified name of statesman for a Churchill or a Roosevelt, but extend it to lesser men who give honourable and patriotic service in public affairs.”

Costello P and Coleman P, The Costello Memoirs, MUP, 2009, pp 336-337.

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Ad astra reply

23/03/2009More interesting reading for Malcolm: [i]Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull further behind PM Kevin Rudd, says Newspoll[/i] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25232508-601,00.html Tomorrow's Newspoll 2PP steady at 56/44. Preferred PM now 65/20, a 45 point gap - last Newspoll PPM 61/21. So Malcolm the people still don't buy your hype.

monica

23/03/2009Well, all I can add is that your earlier stuff, Ad Astra, has passed them by completely, and probably will continue to do so. I'm not sure that Malcolm Turnbull takes advice from anyone anyway. However, it will be interesting to see whether or not Malcolm Turnbull does anything different politically, given the polls. Will he desist from the negativity, the opposition of everything? I'd bet not, due to his being trapped by who's backing him for the leadership. One thing not commented on much, is that Kevin Rudd got to call who were the players in his government, as has Anna Bligh. Perhaps this is what winning government in your own right gives you, a freedom not accorded to Opposition Leaders there at the whim of others.

Just Me

24/03/2009Oh to be a fly on the wall right now at federal Liberal party HQ strategy planning meetings. What fun those sessions must be. (Is my schadenfraude showing?)

Ad astra reply

24/03/2009monica, I'm sure Malcolm will take no notice of me, and it seems as if he doesn't take advice from his advisors either - any advisor worth his salt would be advising him to change tack. But he might take note of Dennis Shanahan writing in today's [i]Australian[/i] on the latest [i]Newspoll[/i] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/files/newspoll24mar.jpg in a piece titled [i]Populism is not Malcolm's answer.[/i] After giving details of the poll he says: [quote]"The same survey last weekend also shows that all the trend lines are going in the wrong direction for Turnbull. Despite a positive blip after Turnbull won the Liberal leadership last September, the Coalition is now locked into trailing the Labor Government by eight to 10 percentage points on a two-party preferred basis. Turnbull is not making any inroads on Rudd as preferred prime minister and the Liberal leader now trails by 45 points after starting 30 points behind in September. But the biggest problem Turnbull has in the polling figures is the continuing decline in his satisfaction ratings - down to 42 per cent last weekend after a peak of 53 per cent in November - and the continuing rise in dissatisfaction from 25 to 40 per cent. Turnbull is on the cusp of going into so-called negative satisfaction where more people dislike a leader than like them. This is can be a corrosive and fatal zone for a leader. Turnbull's predecessor, Brendan Nelson, pulled himself up temporarily with populist campaigns against rising petrol prices and the new tax on pre-mixed drinks. At the time Nelson was roundly criticised within the Liberal Party for being populist and the small improvement never turned into a recovery. "Now, the Coalition vote is exactly the same as it was when Nelson was replaced, Rudd's lead is virtually the same on preferred prime minister and Turnbull's satisfaction rating is only marginally better. Having got through the end of John Howard's Work Choices and having decided to take a stand against the $42 billion economic stimulus package, Turnbull can't afford to start going down populist dead-ends."[/quote] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25232972-17301,00.html Thomas Paine, a regular blogger on [i]Poll Bludger[/i] says: [quote]"The figure that will torment Mr Turnbull will be Mr Rudd’s PPM 65% How dare just about everybody believe Rudd would be the better PM! Will this mean Mr Turnbull’s rants will go into over drive? Will we get more ‘deeply flawed’, ‘ruined’, ‘destroy’, ‘incompetent’, ‘mishandling’ comments? Maybe they should realise that name calling isn’t really a policy. People simply cannot take to Turnbull, they see the guy, listen to what he says and the way he says it and it leaves them cold, so far. The problem they have is Hockey is also just a ranter."[/quote] Just Me, we'd all like to flies on the Federal Liberal Party HQ wall.

Bushfire Bill

24/03/2009The Libs have only one policy: Labor can be counted on to do the wrong thing. It shows in their every utterance. It's always "‘deeply flawed’, ‘ruined’, ‘destroy’, ‘incompetent’, ‘mishandling’ comments" as AA puts it, above. The basic Liberal "attack" (if you can dignify it with that word) on Labor is that [i]they do not know how to behave in "polite" society[/i]. On the other hand, Labor's basic attack is that the Libs are [i]always corrupt[/i] and that they [i]have no imagination[/i]. Both are as tired and as hackneyed as each other. It's just that at the moment Labor's attack has some currency. Just take a look at Turnbull's latest round of debating points: playing proud to the base, washing up against barren shores to the common herd. When you can't take a trick, why not at least go for the cheap thrills of the nutjobs at Bolt's and Akerman's braying for you? I've said it before and I'll say it again: Turnbull will revert to type. He'll throw in the towell soon (OK, in the next six months) and stop beating his head against the wall. He has no, none, chance of success. He will never be PM. He knows when to quit. He is a survivor. For Christ's sake, he isn't even a Liberal! Why should he go down in a ditch for them? Youse heard it here first.
How many oranges do I have if I have 3 oranges and take ONE away?