So, the man that was hailed as the most successful opposition leader in history is at risk at being remembered as on of the most unsuccessful Prime Ministers.
How is it come to this? Various pundits have written their reasons. The electorate is volitile Or as Mark Latham say ‘Baby Boomers’ (I hate that term) PMs do not dig economics (but then backs Turnbull who was born in 1957, go figure). I think the closest explanation comes from ‘Jack the Insider’ which does not think the electorate is not volatile at all.
In the midst of this shift in voting behaviour, the major parties increasingly have reacted by pandering to their bases, shifting incrementally to extremes on the spectrum and leaving swinging voters feeling unrepresented and either parking their votes with minors and independents or swinging from side to side depending on political and economic circumstances.
In other words, if there is an increase in electoral volatility it is because both the Labor and Liberal parties have increasingly left the centre abandoned.
If there are lessons to be learnt from the weekend’s summary punting of the LNP in Queensland it is that Australians will wear tough decisions but they won’t cop bad decisions camouflaged as tough. Australians have an intrinsic sense of fairness and they won’t cop inequity. Similarly, they won’t cop bad decisions made in fits of hubris without consultation and discussion.
I would disagree with that analysis in the fact that the ALP did not go extreme. The Liberal Party did and with that shifted the whole political spectrum (including the ALP) to the right. What I agree with is that Australia electorate is overwhelmingly in the centre and it is the Liberal Party that has gone too much too the ideological right leaving the centre stranded.
The situation we are now is the cause of a series of unfortunate events.
It all started with Rudd winning the election in 2007. I think Rudd was not that much liked by many in the parliamentary ALP. A bit of an outsider, someone who did not suffer fools gladly. But he was popular in the electorate, he defeated Howard who was hailed as unbeatable by the commentariat. However the parliamentary ALP went along until the polls went down. At the first whiff of unpopularity the MPs took their revenge and ousted him. I believe that if Rudd was better in human relations with his MPs the outcome would have been very different. Of course we know the story. It really didn’t matter that the ALP passed legislation, that Gillard very ably negotiated a minority government etc. People were sick of hearing about the instability.
Many ALP supporters blamed ‘the media’. But the media (especially in a hothouse environment like in Canberra) loves this stuff. We can see it now with Abbott. It is uncanny to read how Liberal tweeters blaming the media for Abbott’s predicament are almost the mirror image of ALP ones blaming the media when Gillard faced the same.
This was like shooting fish in a barrel for the opposition and especially Tony Abbott. Any achievements from the Labor government were lost in the noise of leadership issues, and it has to admit that some in the ALP were fueling the speculation.
This sort of instability of course helped the opposition enormously, but also suited Abbott’s confrontational style. He and the Liberal Party were high in the polls and it was inevitable that they will gain Government.
The seeds of Abbott’s and the Liberal current predicament started then. Buoyed by the surge of discontent about Labor and the polls, and also aided by a friendly News Ltd. media and the rest following their songbook they probably thought that they, and their philosophy, was more popular in the electorate that it really was. Lots of people voted for the Liberals because they wanted stability. The leadership issue made the ALP look dysfunctional to many and Abbott offered someone who at least could lead a united government.
But once the Liberals took the reins of power they started to implement a very ideological set of policies. They thought that their substantial electoral mandate gave them permission to have carte blanche in governing, but that wasn’t the case. They thought that by eliminating the Carbon Tax, the Mining Tax and being nasty to refugees and make them stop coming was enough to have eternal gratitude and do whatever they wanted. The problem was that the Carbon Tax was more a trust issue. The Liberals successfully gave the impression that Gillard lied to the electorate. But the Carbon Tax was something payed by the polluters, not by the taxpayers themselves, so not many saw much improvement. Those who went to Canberra and held ‘Ditch the Witch’ placards were a minority and the Liberals mistook this to represent the vast majority of the electorate, Same with the mining tax. It didn’t really affect much of the electorate. The ‘stop the boats’ maybe a bit more. But even this was swamped by a budget that attacked the unemployed young people, the sick poor and, eventually, aged and disabled pensioners, Where someone in the top 4 per cent of taxpayers on $200,000 a year would be paying $7.70 a week extra tax, while a single-income couple with kids will be losing a lot more than that, and someone under 30 denied the dole for the first six months will lose $255 a week.(source Ross Gittins). Despite the Government screamed ‘Budget Emergency’ the electorate did not feel it.
Voters are happy to take a bitter medicine if they think is warranted. This is what happened with Jeff Kennett. As a ALP voter I have to admit that the last term of the Kirner government was quite dire. The Victorian economy was quite bad and Kennett for better or worse came to government with the mandate to fix it. I know, I was one of the public servants he sacked. But Kennett lost when he continued to govern as an emergency Premier when things started to get better. Stephen Mayne, who was an adviser for the then treasurer Stockdale, turned against Kennett when he thought he could not change from an emergency Premier into a growth one, and so did a majority of the electorate.
So voters did not buy the emergency budget. Only the partisan Liberals believed it. So when the budget measures came they basically though WTF. They just wanted a government who was competent and kept things chugging along.
It is amazing how quickly things can turn around. But it would be so easy to avoid it. Just look at previous governments, who had MPs from a variety of backgrounds, did not rely only on advisors and were not obsessed by polls all the time.