Monday, August 23, 2010

What to make of Saturday

Despite all the triumphalism of the three independents about a return of the parliament's significance as a consequence of Saturday, the practical reality is that this just happens to be a close election - it isn't as if the cause of a hung parliament has been a dramatic increase in "independents".

Is it reasonable to conclude that the outcome reflects a "pox upon both your houses?" Well the Lathamite response of "vote informal" might be behind an increase of the Informal vote to 5.63% (up by 1.68). There is no real reason to think informals might have increased due to voter inability to complete the ballot correctly. However, with some states offering optional preferential it will be interesting to see the AEC analysis of this informal vote after the election. It would indeed be a crying shame if this 1.68 increase in informal was a swing away from the ALP but by people who still didn't "want" a coalition government.

For those of us in the "tech" sector it is interesting to see mainstream journalists who think the independents' votes will hinge on the NBN.

Andrew Bolt thinks the "clear winner will be us" - not because we'll get better government but because we'll be taught three lessons about "maturity". He suggests these lessons are;

1. Treat voters as grown-ups.
2. Do not believe what everyone tells you.
3. There is a good reason why the GG shouldn't play politics.

They are interesting points, but let's take hem in reverse order. The Bolt spin is that Bryce is compromised because she has made "leftist" comments and - shock horror - made overseas tips in support of our UN bid. The Herald-Sun goes further and tries to argue that Bryce is compromised by virtue of Bill Shorten being her son-in-law. But constitutional "expert" Anne Twomey points out that what the GG has to do is pretty straight-forward. That is the existing PM can stay PM unless she resigns to test her support on the floor of the House. If she stays and can't get support then the GG invites Tony Abbott. If he too can't get support then the he should advise the calling of an election.

This is very different to 1975. There the PM would not give advice to call an election but could not secure supply. The GG appointed Fraser - an appointment which saw supply passed and the PM advise the calling of an election. The controversy is whether the GG should have told Whitlam what he was planning to do, the reason for not doing so was the supposed "rush to the Palace" that is the prospect Whitlam would have advised the Queen to dismiss Kerr before he dismissed Whitlam. The other part of the controversy is whether there were coalition members ready to pass supply anyway, or whether the appointment of Fraser was conditional on him advising to call an election (as now claimed by Fraser but disputed by others).

The second point about not believing what everyone told you is about the idea of Tony being unelectable and Rudd unassailable. Bottom line is that those who said this really were right - until the ALP shot itself. They did that - because they believed everything people were telling them.

That actually brings us to the second point of treating people as grown ups. Neither party did. Both relied upon parroted lines. Part of the difference was that the coalition "action contract" didn't change whereas the ALP had to drop "Moving Forward" after its first outing. If anything JG was too disciplined - she'd get the sound bite out in answer to every question whereas TA always saved it for the end. But TA doing as well as he did by painting the Government as a "bad government" was absurd - let alone that the action contract was abouit Stopping four things, debt, spending, new taxes and boats.

But the ALP brought this on themselves. They did so with the decision to try to negotiate the ETS with the coalition only after the Bill was rejected once. Sure that got the coalition to the table, but they ran out of time to get the negotiated bill rejected twice in time for a double dissolution. They also hung too much on the Copenhagen outcome and the need to conclude by Copenhagen. Th strategy should have been an exposure draft of the ETS - lots of public discussion. Then move to introduce with lots of invitations to coalition to negotiate before that (as opposed to refusing which was the Rudd/Wong position until the second attempt to get it passed). Politically the ALP failed by trying to get an outcome on the ETS rather than make the lost of it as a political issue - and that's really strange given the accusation that they are all about spin.

Maxine McKew nailed it on Saturday by pointing out Labor failed to properly claim success in the GFC matter twelve months ago. They were of course nervous of the prospect of a global "double dip", but they could have done more about selling the benefits. Lord help save us from Joe Hockey who would prefer to cut fiscal stimulus in preference to maintaining monetary stimulus - monetary stimulus works quickly but should only be used short term till fiscal can cut in.

The ALP failed to take criticisms of the insulation and BER programs sufficiently seriously until too late. All the actual failures in both programs belong to State Governments - but the stimulus should have been redirected if these problems couldn't be resolved.

But in the blame game that is about to start it isn't as simple as deciding not to listen to focus groups or to simply execute the NSW Right (which should be done). The Liberals did moderately well by doing exactly what the ALP tries to do - simple repeated message, appeal to the reaction of voters and not logic.

But that growing informal vote, the declining two-party first preference vote, the fact that the ALP+Green first preference vote was nearly 50% on its own (49.91 to 43.5 for the four "coalition" parties) all suggests that the public is trying to find something "new."

The political scientists track the evolution of political parties from mass movements to I think something now referred to as "cartel" parties. The two parties have operated in consort to restrict the alternative voices - but I suspect that is about to end.

PS Maybe I should borrow from Cato the Elder and finish every post with "The NSW Right must be destroyed".

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