Francis Vierboom's Blog

A blog about things. Mostly news, ideas, and Sydney

The inevitable Gillard

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Someone has put a few thousand dollars on Gillard leading the Labor party at the next election, shortening Centrebet’s odds to $4. This is a crazy bet, because if there is one tenet of Ruddist government that has to date been widely viewed as successful, it’s ‘be as predictable and boring as possible’. There is no chance of a spill before the next election. It just doesn’t fit with the philosophy of ‘government under the radar’. Rudd won the election in 2007 by saying sensible centrist things, which was extremely refreshing at the time, and desperately avoiding Howard wedgies by simply copying his policies. Howard lost the election because policies like WorkChoices showed that the Coalition had become too restless to be trusted. The action-men image of the Howard and co suddenly looked threatening and destabilising; suddenly they were bored old men with nothing better to do after ten years in government than implement their weird ideological policies.

This ‘reassuring’ posture has started to work a little too well. Despite the massive economic stimulus package, there seems to be a general feeling that Labor, at least until recently, has generally not appeared to do much of anything in the last three years. This is partly because on a lot of Rudd’s rhetorical centrepieces – climate change, Aboriginal rights, homelessness, health – there really hasn’t been that much progress.

I have a suspicion that the Government’s political advisers had a good look at Lateline on Feb 16th, when Ticky Fullerton visited the ‘weathervane’ seat of Lindsay to check up on the ‘Western Sydney Bogans Battlers’ theory of Howard’s victories. Fullerton found a woman, Kathy, who had switched to vote for Rudd in 2007, but having been primed by that morning’s Alan Jones show or something, she had stinging words for the government: “Mr Rudd was going to take over the hospitals if they didn’t improve, which they haven’t. He was gonna do grocery watch, fuel watch. They’re non-existent now. Interest rates: they’re going up again.”

Labor strategists would have looked into Kathy’s eyes and felt a deep and unsettling fear that what she was saying rings very true. Rudd did promise to take over hospitals, keep interest rates down, and make groceries and petrol all but free. It’s only a week or two later, at the end of February, that the hospitals plan was released, and a frenzy of activity based on ‘doing things’ has since fired up.

Peter Brent regards the Western Sydney swing voters theory as bogus, given how few swing seats are in Western Sydney, but there is probably something to it. This is if you allow that ‘Western Sydney’ is simply being used as a euphemism for ‘low-information bogans’. The theory goes that, unlike well-off religious North Shore voters, socially conservative old people, farmers, or yuppie city dwellers, these are the elusive ‘persuadables’ who don’t fall neatly into any political party, and are actually relatively easy to pick off. These voters, although particularly distilled in Western Sydney regions, are to be found all over the country.

In the Lateline story, Kathy went on to refer to ‘the tax’ (the ETS) being a key issue, and other vox populi mentioned boat people, and the fact they had only switched in 2007 because of WorkChoices. People who complain about the ETS ‘great big tax’ and boat people seem like they are really natural Liberal voters anyway. But it’s the ‘but what have they actually done?’ critique that feels more likely to stick for the ‘persuadables’ at morning tea with the chelsea bun.

And on the ‘doing things’ front, there is one person in Government who has definitely been in charge of doing things, and that’s been Gillard, the mega-minister for Education and Workplace Relations. There are stories all over the shop now about the waste in the schools program, but as long as nobody gets electrocuted or catches on fire, the coverage is really good news for the Government. People expect cost overruns, and it’s cost overruns on school halls and classrooms etc. It’s activity. It’s what a Labor-led Education Revolution would probably like if you could put one on TV.

Even more importantly, for anyone with a vague recollection of politics in 2008, Gillard was the one who plunged the stake through the heart of WorkChoices (as well as the WorkChoices mousepads).

Rudd plays it too safe to lose the next election, and Abbott plays a little too loose with a little too much baggage. But I think Rudd is likely to return with a reduced majority. [Recall that Howard barely survived 1998 against Beazley, even losing the popular vote.] Gillard has shown herself a far superior communicator, and will play a big role in winning the upcoming election for Labor. If anyone can point me to a $3 bet on a Gillard leading Labor to the 2013 election, let me know. I’ve got $100 ready to go.

(I’d even be tempted by a Gillard/Tanner quinella at $6 in 2013 – even though that’s two members of the Left, apparently it’s worth $6.50 for the coming election.)

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Written by Francis

March 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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