Tony Abbott has a word for all those who voted for Labor in 2007. He knows you’re sorry. He knows you regret your decision. He knows you ring up the talk back radio stations and say “I voted Labor in 2007, but never again…”. He knows you really don’t like Kevin Rudd. In fact he knows Kevin Rudd is not very popular at all and the electorate has just been waiting for a reason to hate him.
That is the basis for Tony Abbott’s election strategy for 2010. Here’s Abbott talking to The Weekend Australian yesterday:
"Rudd's popularity is broad but not deep. Feelings towards Rudd are mildly positive but his support is brittle. When he is not being a simplistic scaremonger he deals in high falutin' gobbledygook. What people won't get from me are platitudes, bromides, phrases that mean nothing when analysed. I will be plain and comprehensible and people will understand."
Yep, Kevin Rudd since he took over leadership of the ALP three years ago has been as popular as Bart Cummins on Cup Day, but according to Abbott this is “brittle”. So if two years as PM with satisfaction ratings at unseen levels is “brittle”, I’d love to know Abbott’s definition of rock solid. The big problem with Abbott's view (apart from it being supported by nothing) is that it is the same one he has had for three years. Here's Abbott back in April 2007 on Lateline:
TONY ABBOTT: Kevin Rudd's honeymoon is obviously far from over, and these [polls] indicate that the Australian people are giving the still relatively new Opposition Leader every chance to prove himself…. In the end, I think, they are going to expect him not just to engage in feel-good politics, but to actually tell them precisely what he is going to do to address the various things which he thinks are important. What's he going to do on climate change - not in 50 years' time but today and tomorrow? How is he going to keep our prosperity while abolishing Australian Workplace Agreements, and so on? How can he run a middle of the road government while bringing all these union bosses into the Parliament?
Gee, what is Kevin Rudd going to do on climate change Tony? What a damn good question…
Here’s Abbott this year in July talking again about Rudd’s popularity:
"I think the Prime Minister's popularity is basically being bought. He is still sending out cheques to millions of Australian households. He has spent the hundred billion or so that was built up by the former government, he is now borrowing money at the rate of more than a million dollars a week. Sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost, and that's when Kevin Rudd's popularity is going to go down and Malcolm Turnbull's will go up."
Hmm, wonder how Malcolm’s popularity is going Tony? Here’s a couple other things Abbott said at the time:
"Malcolm is the best person to lead our party. I think he is the best person to lead us to the next election. He is better qualified than anyone – myself included – to take the economic fight to the government.”
You make a good point Tony!
Other Liberals have been obsessed about Rudd’s popularity. Here’s Peter Dutton last month:
PETER DUTTON: Well, look, my judgment is that people are fascinated with Kevin Rudd at the moment and in many ways in my mind it is a house of cards. … when people scratch the surface, when the Prime Minister has a few testy issues and he's perhaps on the page with one of those issues at the moment, then I think we'll start to see a different side to Kevin Rudd and I think that's when we'll to see a turnaround in the numbers.
This is known as the “hey voters, you’re dumb” argument. So after 3 years as leader of the ALP, 2 of them as PM we haven’t scratched the surface of Rudd? Pathetic – and this Dutton bloke is apparently a bright hope for the Liberal Party…
The whole “Rudd is not actually popular, just lucky” line of argument is behind the entire Abbott strategy for the 2010 election. Abbott thinks the voters made a mistake in 2007, and he thinks the voters think so as well. The Liberal Party has not understood the 2007 election at all – Abbott less than anyone. That is why the policies he will take to the 2010 election will be anti-climate change, a return of WorkChoices, a return of non-means tested handouts like the baby bonus, the killing of the National Broadband Network, and the winding back of any other infrastructure spending.
Essentially Abbott wants to pretend it is 2005 and things are going well, and the Liberal Party will be in power forever.
He will run a scare campaign on the ETS. It may be effective for a little while, the only problem, however, is that people already understand it will cost them, but a majority are happy because they know we need to start taking the environment into account in the economy. The difference with this and the GST in 1992 is that people didn’t feel like we needed a GST (broaden the taxation base? Why?). But people know we need to do something about climate change, so Abbott will have to come up with something on this issue. If all he has got is Wilson Tuckey’s plan for carbon sequestration and tidal power, then he’s stuffed, because it will be so easily trashed by Rudd and Tanner and Combet (the two attack dogs of 2010) as to make Abbott look like a fool.
Carbon sequestration is all fine and dandy, but it won’t be enough on it’s own and why would any farmers do it if there is no price on carbon? The answer, of course, is the Government (Abbott) will have to pay them to do it. So much for it being costless…
But look, Abbott’s scare campaign will get some traction – and it is why I believe the Government will not go to an early election. The ALP will want to put Abbott’s policies (and Abbott) under the microscope. Abbott is all about “the vibe”. He may be a Rhode’s Scholar, but his politics is every bit as much about spin as he says Rudd is – in fact more so, because no one would ever call Abbott a policy wonk.
So if there was an early election, then Abbott would be almost able to get by on sound bites – the stuff that plays well on talkback right wing radio. But the longer he has to sit in parliament and listen to Rudd, the more he is going to say thoughts out loud, the more he is going to have to square his policies with some actual costings; the more he is going to have to explain the consequences of what he is proposing. Sure, get rid of the Baby Bonus means testing Tony, but how will you pay for it? And as 2007 showed, the electorate has got very cynical about election bribes.
Abbott and the Liberal Party think they have a winner because they have a scare campaign on the ETS. But that is ONE scare. Here’s what the ALP already can use to scare the electorate from what Abbott has said in just the last week: an anti climate change extremist, a return of WorkChoices, the end of the schools stimulus funding (ie in YOUR son’s or daughter’s school), and internet at slow speeds (you know, Australia left behind…).
And that’s just from the first week. Throw in a bit of a nuclear power scare, scares about attacks to Medicare (that’s a no brainer for when attacking a Howard Government Health Minster), cuts to roads and rail infrastructure, cuts to child-care funding (mothers should be at home don’t you know…) etc etc etc. Pretty much the ALP can recycle most of the 2007 campaign. It’s astonishing that already Abbott is crafting his narrative as being a return to the past. After only 2 years, where interest rates are still low, unemployment hasn’t taken too great a hit, and infrastructure spending is kicking in around the country, people haven’t quite got to the point of thinking these are bad times, or being entirely nostalgic for John Howard.
But heck, give Abbott his due – for some reason he has been able to convince the media that he is a “conviction politician” despite in the past month having been adamantly for the ETS and adamantly against the ETS. The media might not be picking up all his inconsistencies, but you can bet the next election that the ALP has.
When I see ALP attack adverts for the next election, I see Tony Abbott and every contradictory statement he has made in the last 2-3 years. It will be all about making the voters think that Abbott will say anything, and that you really can’t trust him – sure he’s a good head kicker, but PM? Pass. The other ALP adverts will then show shot after shot after shot after shot of stimulus spending at schools, on highways, railways, broadband being laid, you’ll see Rudd at community cabinets and on and on and on.
The Liberals will talk about an ETS Tax, but have nothing credible in its place. They’ll talk about debt, but will have to explain why Australia not going into a recession is a black mark against the Govt (and also why the debt isn’t as much as they first thought it would be). They may even try to attack Rudd. I hope they do; it’ll guarantee an ALP win, in the same was as when the ALP targeted Howard they shot themselves in the foot.
Abbott hates Rudd and keeps saying in just about every interview some snide remark about Rudd being boring, Rudd being a wordy nerd, Rudd being a public servant. What Abbott forgets is Australian people by and large prefer boring leaders, don’t care that he is a nerd (in fact it’s almost endearing – see his performance at the launch of ABC3), and as for public servants? They don’t mind them, provided they are not seen to be slacking off – and no one can ever say Rudd takes it too easy. All in all, Abbot’s argument is one that plays well to people who already hate Rudd, and who already were going to vote for the Liberal Party.
They’re going to have to do better if they want to win – especially when come election time it will be Abbott and Julie Bishop leading the charge. Last time Rudd beat Howard and Costello – who do you think is the tougher opponent?
So with the end of 2009 in sight, the 2010 election is already set up. I have to say I have no idea when it will be. I still think the ALP wants to go to a double dissolution after June 30, to avoid having a 2 years second term.
2009 has been a pretty enthralling year for political nerds – leadership spills, fake emails, the ETS…. Next year, as all election years are want to be, should prove just as enthralling.