We have the dust settled from the somewhat absurd challenge from the Kevin the Tea Man, which highlighted somewhat how centred on leaders our politics and coverage of politics has become. The idea that people vote for a leader, not a party has become the key idea in the way politics is represented. The ALP played to this somewhat with the Kevin 07 shirts and the Howard-lite positioning of the Milky Bar Kid.
This leader-centric approach has also gripped the ALP in their strategy against Tony Abbott. It’s all focused on Abbott, because opinion polls are telling them Abbott isn’t popular, especially amongst women. Lachlan Harris, former adviser to Rudd, repeated this line on Q and A on Monday night – “Abbott is the Government’s best asset”. It is not, however, the best strategy. It continues, somewhat, the idea that politics is a Celebrity Big Brother contest, where individuals compete for the ring in votes.
It’s a mistake because Abbott is like the contestant on Big Brother that surprises everyone with his resilience and ability to stay around. He has proven to be cockroach like in his ability to survive attack after attack launched by the government. His approach of relentlessly simplifying everything to soundbites and opposing government spending on anything public is working. Rudd tried to oppose him with intellect and well constructed argument – Abbott was able to sound more like an “average bloke” by using simple language to demonstrate how Rudd was out of touch with the “ordinary Australian”. It was an approach that worked for John Howard against Paul Keating – playing to an anti-intellectual tune works nicely in an media landscape where intellectual rigour is derided as “elitism” and megaphone ranting is highly prized.
Against Gillard, Abbott’s “Aussie bloke” approach has worked easily against an opponent whose voices has been drained of warmth by advisers who seemed to have turned her into an automaton. It is this success that still makes me unsure that Turnbull would succeed in taking over from Abbott. Turnbull plays well to the inner city people who frequent Twitter and various media outlets – because he’s a very smart, compassionate politician. However, the Liberals don’t need votes in those areas. To many Australians, Turnbull is a super rich corporate banker, therefore not one of “them”.
The approach the ALP should be taking is looking at the mid-season Survivor model – demonstrating that teamwork wins the challenges. This is why I wonder why they persist with the focus on Abbott when he has proven to be able to bounce back from every attack with the same, boring, droning response. They should be focusing on his “team” – the ones who only just voted for Abbott over Turnbull. The ones who make such monumental stuff-ups whenever they are asked questions.
– There’s Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that the NBN really isn’t necessary – wireless will suffice. Or maybe not – silence about the issue seems to be the theme now.
– Perhaps Christopher Pyne’s 1950s education suggestion that students should be learning Classics instead of skills “that could become obsolete”. Great quotes “You have to teach kids about things, not just how to do things” shows just how clueless Pyne is about modern schooling, where both things do indeed occur. His call for greater private investment in schools could also do with some attention, suggesting as it does that advertising should be in schools, as should companies recruiting students about to finish Year 12.
– They should be highlighting a Climate Change and Environment Spokesman in Greg Hunt who once spoke glowingly of carbon pricing
– Barnaby Joyce, who provides gold most days
– The rantings of Sophie Mirabella, shown here in a confrontation with Bill Heffernan about milk prices – an issue that shows a stark contrast between the neoliberal and agrarian socialist instincts of the Coalition.
The list goes on with Liberals who crumble under anything approaching a cross examination by a journalist or politician. There are a number of people in the community who are unaware of just how many holes Abbott has in his team, the mistakes they make, the concepts they don’t understand. They are unaware because the main Government emphasis is on Abbott – and the media report what the Government is saying about him.
It is even more puzzling when the emphasis of Gillard’s time as leader hasn’t really been about her, it’s on her government, her team. The narrative that Rudd wasn’t a team builder, but she is. That is even more reason to question the Coalition team’s ability to deliver competent government. They should be working at constructing the narrative that you may respect / possibly like Abbott, but his team can’t run an effective government, they would fail at any Survivor challenge that would be thrown at them. I suspect, though, that the ALP will continue to struggle to make an impact on Abbott, wasting resources and time on the episode of Celebrity Big Brother that Gillard had hoped she’d avoided.
You could say that the Survivor metaphor doesn’t work because ultimately, it is about the individual winning over everyone. Yes, that is true. However, for me it works because you can’t make it through the whole series without a good team. Nor can you win in Australian politics by playing nice.