When covering the 1988 US Democratic Convention, the recently late P.J. O’Rourke aptly titled his article ‘On The Blandwagon’. Less aptly perhaps, he included this essay in his next book, ‘Holidays in Hell’. He probably should have waited a few years and then included it in the much more suitably titled ‘Holidays in Heck’.
Coverage of the 2022 Federal Election Campaign, up to Day 4 now, is similarly bland. The main colour to the campaign so far was Albo making a faux pas when he did not know the current unemployment and official interest rates. That more than makes up for ScoMo not knowing what a loaf of bread might cost when he was asked a couple of months back.
To be honest, there is very little difference between the parties in their policies, according to the main coverage which I have been reading. Both of them are trying to buy our love… or at least our votes.
Someone wrote a piece somewhere recently with a photo of the Opposition leadership group (ie Albo, Marles, Penny and Kristina) standing together and saying something to the extent that would you really want those people running the country? That is a bit ad hominem perhaps, but a photo of the Liberal leadership group could probably raise even greater expressions of horror (ScoMo, Josh, and Senators Birmingham & Cash).
If you were to include the leadership of the coalition partners (ie Barnaby and his entourage), your hair might stand on end.
But most of the actual participants are playing nice, and not making such direct attacks on each other’s likability (or lack thereof).
The Coalition’s main current theme seems to be a familiar mantra that Labor cannot be trusted to properly and responsibly manage the economy. This has frequently worked well in the past, although I think that Hawke-Keating did more for economic rationalism (something I mostly still believe in) than any of the Liberal-led governments which had come before.
Now that there is, as Clive and his new sidekick Craig keep reminding us, a trillion dollars of government debt on ScoMo’s watch, I am not sure that this sort of argument holds as much water. If we are going to denounce governments (and potential governments) for printing money and then spending it wantonly, I think that there is little difference between Kevin Rudd at the time of the GFC and Scott Morrison during the Pandemic, except that ScoMo has clearly spent far far more.
The second theme that the Coalition is running with is that you cannot trust Labor as there will be a Labor-Greens-Independents alliance which will end up running the country. I am very skeptical about this for two reasons.
One is that when Albo was manager of government business during the Gillard government, where there was a hung parliament, they were able to get a lot of legislation through the House of Reps despite the lack of a majority, and with limited compromise. Gillard was able to outmanoeuvre naive independents like Andrew Wilkie with pledges which did not end up benefiting them or their agendas the way that they had hoped.
The other is that historically, changes of government do not occur with slim majorities or hung parliaments. There have been 7 elections which have resulted in a change of government since the Second World War: 1949, 1972, 1975, 1983, 1993, 2007, and 2013. In only one of those elections, 1972, was the result anything less than a very clear and decisive victory – usually a landslide. If the election goes Labor’s way this time, I think that history shows us that it is more likely that it will have a very clear mandate to govern.
But it really does appear that this election is not currently being contested on policies, much as the Coalition wants to paint the Opposition as unable to manage the economy or control sympathetic fellow travellers. It is being contested on likability – ScoMo versus Albo.
People have now had three years to get to know ScoMo much better than they did when he pulled off his electoral miracle in 2019. Many do not like what they see. Whilst the government has been much more controlled and competent than it was under Abbott or Turnbull, it has developed a facade of almost Tammany-like machine politics, with spoils, purges and patronage, which responsible citizens will find disturbing. Nor do the denunciations from many senior people on the same side, such as Gladys and Barnaby, present ScoMo as particularly trustworthy or likeable.
Albo, from what we see of him, seems to be the last of the True Believers (FYI, ‘True Believers’ is a Labor myth created by the odious Bob Ellis in the late 1980s). It may be that he is merely more effective than others at hiding his ruthlessness from the public eye, or that his internal victims within the ALP have much more to gain from his success than from his failure so that they stay silent. (Note that this is in vast contrast to ScoMo – whose victims and opponents within the Liberal Party are all coming forward right now to try and tear him down and settle their scores immediately.). I like to think that Albo is both an authentic champion for the Aussie Battler and a truly loveable character. But I am not naive enough to unquestioningly believe it.