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As Liberal leaders go I really like John Hewson. He had the misfortune of losing the ‘unloseable election’ but, while I was really happy that Keating won against all odds, on hindsight we would have a much better Australia, and a much more moderate Liberal Party if he became Prime Minister.
But history dictated that we (from a leftie perspective) paid a heavy price for that extra three years of Labor government. Howard was elected leader, and as it looks like Abbott at the moment, when a government is in trouble any opposition leader will become PM, notwithstanding his or her popularity. If there is any gleam of light in the government current disaterous poll situation is that Tony Abbott is not exactly killing it in the popularity stakes either.
It will be also interesting to see if the Government can hold on the onslaught from the opposition and the News Ltd. media whether at election time a direct comparison between Abbott and Gillard may change the current political situation. While at this stage the Gillard government is doomed, most commentators (even the non-Labor ones) have stated that Abbott has basically used a devastating negative approach with no or little alternative. There is no reason why Abbott would change this strategy if he sits comfortably 14% more than the government in the polls.
The question remains whether this strategy will still give him such a margin come election time. Also while Abbott associating himself with the angry discontented with their nasty signs
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may look like he is ‘talking to the real Australian’ I do wonder whether he may also plant some seeds of doubt amongst some voters.
And that’s where the John Hewson comparison comes in. Election post mortems are always to be taken carefully, but I remember that Michelle Grattan wrote that one of the reasons why Hewson lost was that he went to big public forums which created lots of conflict and heat. I must admit that I admired him for it, he showed he had guts to argue his case to the public, but Grattan thought that this gave a sense of instability while Keating was at the lodge being calm and in control. Perhaps this may not apply to Julia Gillard which is a Prime Minister with a minority government, which robs her of a sense of being in control, but if it is the case that despite disliking Gillard, voters may also not trust an alternative Prime Minister that aligns himself with loony conspiracy theorists with nasty signs.
And if Abbott wins government, will he be able to satisfy the frustrations of these people? As I mentioned in a previous blog Gillard has become a rod for the unhappiness of a certain group of people, as Bernard Keane stated in Crickey:
….the motivating force behind these groups appears to be more about expressing resentment about social and economic change in recent decades, and particularly because such changes have delivered nothing but difficulties for the demographics we’re talking about: social change has undermined the once-dominant status of older white heteros-xual people and males in particular, and, in the Australian context, economic changes have squeezed them, along with everyone else, into a far more competitive, market-based economy that no longer delivers the sort of certainty they grew up with and that Generation X, in particular, never had.
The trick is, these groups aren’t motivated by any particular issues, however angry they may be about a carbon price or taxes. The issues are mere tokens. It’s more about them and their resentment that the world has changed on them in ways they don’t like and don’t feel comfortable with. It’s the sense of persecution that comes from no longer occupying a privileged position in society but instead having to cope with life just like everyone else.
So once Abbott is Prime Minister, how he is going to satisfy these people?