Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
“The only thing I wouldn’t do is sell my own arse – but I’d have to give serious thought to it” – Tony Abbott
Excellent vision, terrible execution. This is the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd saga in a nutshell, and this is how history will judge them. While they were at work driving high-end policy in our intense modern age, they ignored the low-end craft that drives politics itself – the knack for getting one’s hands dirty, selling oneself to the people, and being the best damned political whore one can be. They ignored this crucial skill at their peril, while Tony Abbott nailed it and cashed in.
In hindsight, their record has been fairly solid: interest rates, inflation, and unemployment at consistent lows; guiding Australia through the Global Financial Crisis practically unscathed; planning and implementing solid education reforms; addressing and legislating against carbon emissions; and laying the foundations for a disability insurance scheme. Their work was staggered, their visions compromised before they began, but their ideas were solid.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world has been teetering on the edges of economic implosion, digging its way out of a black hole of debt, and using gasoline to extinguish the flames of civil war.
In spite of this relatively successful narrative, Labor failed to sell themselves. Their message was weak, their press slogans were lectures, and their entire act was an awkward dance to the tune of Abbott’s horrendous fiddling. They struggled to connect. Truly, this mob could have cured cancer, reversed global warming, fed the entire continent of Africa, and reunited the original Guns & Roses, yet still failed to impress. Quite simply, they failed to seduce that colossal demographic of Australian voters: The Lowest Common Denominator.
The cold truth of this nation’s political culture is that more than 50% of voters have neither the will nor the capacity to understand government policy in the slightest. And unfortunately, they are the fickle bunch that decide election outcomes. They are the “Angry Bogan” demographic. They are the “True Blue Aussies”, paying off some unaffordable mortgage somewhere on “Struggle Street”. They can be “Howard’s Battlers”, or they can be “Labor’s Heartland”, to be won or lost by the shrewdest of them all. Governments stand or fall based on the emotional whims of this volatile bunch. Their memory is short, their attention span even shorter, and their vote is for sale to the loudest bidder.
The best in the business have always known how to connect with these people. Hawke and Howard knew it. Keating, less so. But Rudd and Gillard? Way off. Academic, assuming, and ill-prepared, the ALP walked into both the 2010 and 2013 election campaigns without so much as clearing their throats to address these people. They epitomised the “ivory tower academics” that most Australians love to hate. The result? They left a terrible, long-lasting, and unshakeable impression upon the “simple” half of the electorate.
Brains will only take you so far in Canberra – you need the political acumen to back it up. Winning in Australian politics is never a battle between ideas, rather, it is a battle for thumping hearts and distracted minds. Labor failed to capture this. If they manage to salvage anything from this electoral disaster, it must be this: get off the pedestal and step into the gutter. Leave the pride at home, leave the résumé back at the office, and speak to the people on their level.
Whoever becomes the next leader of the ALP, they ought to take a lesson learn from the world’s oldest profession, and learn how to whore themselves out like the best in the business.