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October 10, 2004

singing the blues

The Sunday television talk shows were full of excuses now flowing freely from the ALP. It was the interest rate fear campaign that did it some said. It was a new leader (L-plate) ten months out from an election, others said. John Howard was so dishonest and outrageous in running his scare campaign on a lie. It was saving the forests and being too close to the greens. Or it was the late release of policy.

And so on and so on.


It was a trainwreck. Pryor is right. The ALP's primary vote of 38.2 per cent would have to be one of the lowest votes ever. (The second lowest since preferential votin was introduced, in 1919, says Louise Dodson in the SMH, quoting the Parliamentary Library). Labor cannot win from a primary vote of just 38.3 per cent. With no Liberal marginal seats left in Victoria and a number of ALP ones, Labor is probably facing two terms in opposition.

The problem with the above excuses is that they deny the responsibility of the senior leadership group who were in charge of the campaign strategy and tactics. Shouldn't the finger be pointed at them?

For instance. Why did the ALP not vigorously contest the interest rate campaign run by the LNP from the beginning rather than give it away? Why did it not claim credit for Australia's economic prosperity by appealing to the Hawke/Keating economic reforms? Reading to school children captures headlines but it does not adddress the fear about debt-laden families losing everything from rising interest rates. That is a very real threat considering that most people are living on the financial edge with high mortgages.

Another example. The scare campaign over Peter Costello's leadership aspirations was a feeble joke. It says behind Howard stands Costello who is the economic manager who delivered the economic good times. The ALP reinforces Howard's message. Bizarre.

The flow of excuses all assume that elections are won or lost during election campaigns. The commentators reinforce this when they analyse every nuance in the campaign in an attempt to make sense of the result. Shouldn't we looking beyond the spectacle and theatre of the campaign? Shouldn't we be looking at bedrock public opinion, emotional templates, political unconscious, public mood and changing political patterns? Isn't that where elections are lost and won? It is more a long term campaign--a war of position--- than a question of tactics in a day to day battle.

For instance, should not the ALP be trying to deal with the conservative blue collar workers continuing their drift to the LNP as the left decamps to the Greens?

An example. In Adelaide the Liberals now hold the new seat of Wakefield. That means the Liberals are representing traditional rock solid working class areas such as Elizabeth and Salisbury. That is a huge shift.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 10, 2004 02:25 PM

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