MARK BUCKLEY. Why Labor Lost

Nov 11, 2019

As this year’s election result became clear, Bill Shorten stated, “We were up against corporate leviathans, a financial behemoth, spending unprecedented hundreds of millions of dollars advertising, telling lies, spreading fear – they got what they wanted.” That is the voice of a hapless victim, complaining about forces beyond his control, and not the alternative leader of the country.

Politics can be a dirty and brutal business, but the outcomes are real, and they have a real effect on the quality of people’s lives, so it is absolutely necessary to approach the contest prepared, and to deliver your best efforts. That includes fighting for your beliefs, especially if you are the party of reform, because you represent the needy and the disadvantaged, and the parties of the right will, by nature, and choice, represent vested interests.

The report into why Labor lost, by Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill, really states the bleeding obvious, in that the party did not respond to the change of leader, from the failed toff to the shameless marketer; that it had too many, detailed, costly policies, which merely played to the Coalition’s perceived strength re. economic management; and it had an unpopular leader. What is not stated is that the party let down its constituency, by being unprepared, superficial, and self-satisfied.

Malcolm Turnbull is an inveterate waffler. He can’t help himself, but Shorten’s verbal awkwardness is equally excruciating, so they sort of cancelled each other out. As a contrasting attraction, Morrison is good on his feet, he is pithy in his communications, and he relates to the common man. Shorten could never match him in punchy messaging, so Labor needed to simplify, dare I say to shorten, and sell, the message. They also needed to modify their response to Morrison. He was not ostensibly from the ‘big end of town’, but his ambition and his duplicity were legitimate areas of concern, as was his penchant for rashness, and a reputation for callous disregard to those less better off than himself. Even Turnbull had the grace to display a modicum of ‘noblesse oblige’.

Oppositions are not Governments. They don’t have to prove anything, because they have been out of power, in this case for six years, so anything which looks or feels wrong, is by definition, the Government’s fault.

The drover’s dog could have won this election if Labor had merely turned up on the day, not scared anyone off with badly explained and overly complex policies, and bothered to relate to their base. Fighting the Greens in the inner cities was a waste of resources, and merely reinforced the impression that they had lost touch with their natural constituency, the Working Class.

And let us not forget the absolute rabble that the Government had become before going into the election. They knew it, and they were busily selling off the silverware, resigned to the fact that they were almost universally despised, and whoever had managed to accrue a decent pension, or a reasonable sinecure, was jumping ship. Remember the election launch, where the ‘joke de jour’ was that most of the cabinet ministers were in witness protection. Labor should have capitalised on that community disdain; Barnaby, Dutts, Shameless Angus and Melissa the Missing (Environment Minister), to name but a handful.

The Coalition’s lack of policies was a strength for them. It allowed the relentless sloganeering and the personal targeting of Shorten to proceed unhindered, and unchallenged. Labor looked like the nerd in the playground, who felt superior and smug, but would not bother to explain why, or respond.

Climate change was the elephant in the room, and was both Labor’s greatest strength, and its greatest vulnerability. Win Victoria and lose Queensland, or vice versa. Did no-one realise that the climate-denying rump of the Coalition was, and still is, calling the policy shots in the Coalition? Why not attack the Coalition’s disunity on the matter, exploit their confusion, dazzle them with economic arguments as to why renewables are so attractive, a real win-win solution.

It is hard to believe the lengths to which seemingly grown men and women will go to display confected outrage and disgust at something as innocuous as a paddock of solar panels, or wind turbines. Have they never seen a photo of a power station, let alone one in real life?

Why was no policy formulated, and sold, which explained the economic benefits of de-carbonising the economy, so that coal was, rather than being the saviour of mankind, explained as being too dangerous to use, and able to be economically phased out.

The argument about Shorten is correct. No matter the quality of the offering, you must sell it. And with Labor’s mix of impenetrably complex economic measures, a scare campaign was inevitable. What was needed was someone credible to discredit it. Imagine the “death tax” in the hands of Hawke or Keating; what we got was Shorten bleating that it was misleading.

Strangely both major Australian parties have moved to make it nearly impossible to remove a party leader, at the expense of good sense, or changing circumstances, or even voter preference. Look at the example in Britain. Jeremy Corben is firmly in control of his party in the Commons, yet almost universally loathed throughout the electorate. Ditto Bill Shorten. Hard to vote for a person who has stabbed not one, but two of his leaders in the back, and then to add insult to injury, he is irremovable.

The final mistake was to leave Morrison’s hucksterism unchallenged. His footy following, beer chugging, curry cooking persona was so obviously at odds with his Holy-Roller, bible bashing personality, he was almost as laughable as Peter Dutton trying to smile for his tilt at the Prime Ministership. But as the experts in Behavioural Economics tell us, in moments of doubt or uncertainty, we naturally return to the ‘default’ position. In this case better the devil you know, than the one you don’t. And see where that has got us all!

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!