Brut de Abbott – Michelle Grattan and the Mr Positive Product Launch

It seems Sundays are the time for me to do a bit of a deconstruction of an opinion piece from the Canberra Press Gallery. Today’s subject is the well respected Michelle Grattan, who has been there for quite a long time. She seems in this piece to be pooped by the prospect of covering another election campaign that will be about very little. This is why her piece sounds more at times like an almost uncritical reporting of a product launch rather than an analysis of issues. As ever, her words in italics.

Political science: altering Abbott’s polarity from negative to positive

Expect some rebranding as the Coalition campaign begins.

'Abbott is starting the year confident but not complacent.'‘Abbott is starting the year confident but not complacent.’ Photo: Rob HomerAlways good to have a picture of Abbott trying to look serious and explain something. Looks like it would be home on an Abbott election leaflet.  It would be interesting to compare this to many of the pictures we see of the Prime Minister in media articles.

TONY Abbott is likely to be residing in the PM’s office later this year. Even though the polls have tightened and things can change dramatically, on both sides of politics, that’s the assumption.

From whom? By whom? A pretty big statement to start with – and I can only assume that it’s the press gallery about which she speaks without any provided evidence to the contrary.

A second assumption is that a swag of New South Wales seats will help him get there. It’s no coincidence that Abbott is starting his mini-campaign this morning with a rally (invitation only) of the Liberal faithful in western Sydney’s Lidcombe. The home territory of those ”Howard battlers” is fertile ground for Abbott.

It seems Michelle needs to do a bit of research before talking about areas outside Melbourne and Canberra. Lidcombe is far from being “home territory” of “Howard battlers” at all. It is in the seat of Reid, which is the home of a variety of nationalities, including many newly arrived refugees.  It is also, these days, a much more marginal seat than in the Howard days, due to a number of factors.  If Michelle knew Sydney well, she’d know that the “Howard Battlers” – a lazy term that fits nicely with the Liberal Party strategy documents of the Howard years – was more associated with seats like Lindsay, Greenway, Macarthur and Hughes; containing suburbs that Mark Latham called the “white flight” areas.  Not Lidcombe at all. The move by Abbott to target Lidcombe as a launch site for a campaign (no, sorry, unofficial mini campaign) is more a rallying cry for a marginal seat strategy.  (I am amused by the idea of the Liberal faithful setting off from their plush suburban digs and setting their GPS devices for Lidcombe.)   Having seen the way members of the Canberra Press Gallery showed little understanding of the western suburbs in 2010, I’m not all that surprised that Grattan would say that Lidcombe is just a Howard battler location. It is more a location, however, where the anti-refugee policies of Abbott would have traction amongst those who live in Reid that were either refugees in another era or boat dwellers of the Anglo Celtic variety.

Labor has a total of seven seats in western Sydney and on the NSW central coast that are sitting on margins of between 0.9 per cent and 5.1 per cent. Labor was extremely lucky with some of these last time and a double miracle is unlikely, although the party will make a big effort – a government industry statement is coming, directed at manufacturing workers in such areas.

“Extremely lucky” and “miracle”. Grattan appears to be positioning the Coalition as being unlucky to not win in the western suburbs seats – as if it should have been inevitable. Not a mention of the possible impact of Coalition workplace policies, which would be pretty close to the top concern of seats like Reid.  Indeed, they have been quiet in the press gallery – and the Liberal Party – about IR for a while.

This week’s Coalition campaigning, complete with TV advertising and a booklet detailing values, directions and those policies already in the marketplace, is all about seeking to persuade people that the Opposition Leader can be ”Mr Positive”. The key message is that the Coalition has a (positive) plan. It’s not the first time such an attempt has been rolled out, but this time it is more extensive and serious.

The news that Grattan is discussing here is the release of an advertising campaign and summing up what the angle of that campaign is. It sounds a bit like those articles one reads in newspapers – in lifestyle sections and on page 46 of local newspapers – that just discuss new ad campaigns – that sound something like this –

“Andre Rieu has signed a contract with Chanel, where he will appear in ads where he will stand still and look wistful, with the breeze blowing through his luxuriant hair. The campaign will be seeking to say the violinist is ‘Mr Soulful’. The key message is that Chanel has a (positive) plan to engage with music fans. The spend on this campaign is significant, so it looks extensive and serious”.

It’s a timeless meme in the media. In the 80s, it would have sounded like this –

“Warwick Capper has signed a contract with Brut, where he will appear in ads where he will stand still and look glamorous, with the breeze blowing through his luxuriant hair. The campaign will be seeking to say the Swans star is ‘Mr Flamboyant’.  The key message is that Brut has a (positive) plan to engage with football fans. The spend on this campaign is significant, so it looks extensive and serious”.  

But I digress. Onwards…

Abbott is starting the year confident but not complacent. He knows from experience how narrow the gap can be between success and failure. In 2009 he obtained the leadership by chance (Joe Hockey almost had it in the bag) and by the smallest of margins; in 2010 he failed by a whisker to get power.

More of the advertorial style, casting Abbott in a positive light. “Confident, not complacent” is a way of describing a footballer starting a season, as to not make them sound like an egotist who thinks everything is easy.  Plus, “by chance” reduces the significance of the campaign by Nick Minchin, amongst others, to install Abbott as opposition leader. “By chance” is a oft repeated half truth.

No wonder he’s risk averse. He won’t contemplate a reshuffle – it just creates whingers. He minimises ”hard” interviews. His office has made an extraordinary effort to counter Labor’s claims that he is ”anti-woman”, with his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, willing to talk publicly about how he encouraged her to use his parliamentary fridge to store her fertility drugs.

It is here we have a list of things reported by the Press Gallery but not really examined or analysed a great deal – Grattan doesn’t seem overly bothered by the idea that Abbott is being allowed to minimise those “hard” interviews, as if he has the right to avoid scrutiny.

He is obsessed with discipline, though seemingly unable to avoid periodic lapses. He knows he can be his own biggest risk. His deep personal unpopularity and his negative branding are problems to which he will apply his usual diligence. But can he change his image? And how much will it matter in the end?

“His usual diligence” is an interesting expression, as is Grattan’s question as to how important his image is.  Image, image, image is the focus of this article. And, as if to confirm this, Hugh Mackay is mentioned – the social researcher who is the go to person for journalists who usually write about social trends and product popularity.

Social researcher Hugh Mackay believes Abbott’s brand – being negative, destructive and dismissive – has been unchanged for so long that it has become ”indelible” and it’s hard to see him being able to break out of it.

Abbott’s Brand confirms the idea that this article is about a product. Abbott is Chanel – or possibly more accurately, Brut. What we don’t see here is any exploration of why he is unpopular – that it might have something to do with more than image.  Then we slip into my favourite quote in the entire article – the moment that in advertisements that are usually prefaced with the line “Don’t take my word for it, let’s ask one of Abbott’s supporters”:

But one of Abbott’s senior colleagues argues: ”He’s strong on the tangibles. He’s an alpha male. Alpha males are runners, jumpers. They build things.” He believes Mr Positive will be convincing.

They build things? They are runners, jumpers? Such a blindingly simplistic view of politics just slides through unchallenged. Or maybe Grattan is just opening the door to the brain of a Modern Liberal, showing that the Liberals really are that superficial.  Talking of superficial, Kevin is never far away…

If Abbott faced another Labor leader – notably Kevin Rudd – things might be different. But the chances of a change to Rudd have faded (and a switch would involve its own huge problems for Labor).

It seems Michelle has finally dropped her fantasy (a shared fantasy with the senior members of the Press Gallery, it seems) of the Rudd return.  I’m surprised Malcolm didn’t make an appearance.

As matters stand, Julia Gillard, while she has clawed back her ratings, is also fundamentally unpopular. Both leaders know that voters are thoroughly fed up with each of them and the hung parliament. Perhaps that’s why the start of this election year has been rather slower than might have been expected. The less visible the leaders are, the happier the public. As Mackay says, this will be a contest where there is no inspirational figure.

Imagine, ratings, superficiality.  It’s like a Theatre of the Absurd play down there in Canberra. Guildenstern’s cry – “Words, words. That’s all we have to go on” from Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern turns into “Polls, polls. That’s all we have to go on”.  That and broad statements by “social researchers”.

This week’s Coalition campaign will be emphasising the team, including Julie Bishop, Warren Truss, Hockey (slimmed down with the help of surgery for the battle ahead), Andrew Robb and Malcolm Turnbull. Many promised Abbott ministers are recycled from the Howard ministry, which Abbott sells as one of his positives.

Back to explaining the ad campaign, including the helpful comment that losing weight is a good strategy for fighters.  (I am personally looking forward to seeing just how Warren Truss and Andrew Robb will be “rebranded”)

The Coalition speaks enthusiastically about releasing major policies. Well, soon. Those hanging out for its industrial relations policy, probably its biggest policy test, won’t be getting it this week. It’s hard to think Abbott won’t throw out something in Thursday’s National Press Club speech, but manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne said last week: ”We are not planning on announcing new policy in the next week but we are planning on reminding people of what is already out there.”

No policy still.  I look forward to Grattan’s critical reports about the non release of policy throughout the year, like we received in previous years.  *crickets*

How effectively Abbott sells Mr Positive in coming months could be less important to whether he wins or loses as to the size of his majority.

A Coalition government with a modest margin and an unpopular PM would have no guarantee that fickle voters would be tolerant. Abbott almost overturned a first term Labor government in 2010. A robust buffer is needed to withstand the danger of an electorate that can quickly go sour on new rulers.

There is another reason Abbott needs to do more than just scrape in. A strong lower house vote helps the Senate vote and that could be very important for Abbott. Unless the conservatives get a right-leaning Senate, Labor and Green opposition to Abbott’s promise to repeal the carbon tax might force him to meet his pledge to go to double dissolution. And that would be high risk.

This seems to be the best part of the piece, speaking of some real issues Abbott would face if indeed he has a narrow lead. It seems to be a feature of many of these articles that any decent analysis is left to the end. Pity that the rest of it sounds just like the coverage of a product launch. Or maybe that really is Grattan’s whole point – that the Coalition are just about the image. I would love it if she was being that subtle.

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The Mercader Principle – Invoking Stalin and Free Speech

At times when people have an argument about things on Twitter, things come up that tend to deflate the strength of a person’s argument, especially as wild comparisons are made. Often, that involves Hitler – “you’re as bad as Hitler” and so forth. Otherwise known as Godwin’s Law – and normally is taken to mean that the person who invokes Hitler has automatically lost the argument.

The current fashion, however, is switching to invoking Stalin. This is especially the case when a political party wants an investigation and / or inquiry about something that is going on. Or used to describe parties that want to regulate things.  I can’t remember people objecting too heavily when Keating introduced regulations for the banking sector in the 90s which helped them during the GFC. Or any number of regulations that help us maintain a civil society.  It is regularly called “Stalinist”, for example, to want a media accountable to others, rather than just itself.  It’s become shorthand for reactionaries to label things they see as bad – just name the murderer of millions and you apparently win your argument.  It’s a bit of a amplification from the IPA’s Nanny State label (which, curiously, is the same term used by the tobacco industry whenever Government regulations affect them).

The NSW Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon, is one of the chief recipients of this Stalinist tag. Michael Danby, the avid Israel supporter in the Labor Government (I mentioned him before in this post), was published in The Punch accusing her of being a Stalinist – even though Stalin was long dead by the time she joined the Socialist Party of Australia in the 1970s.   Wendy Bacon deals with that absurd label here, which appears to be part of a campaign (featuring assorted ALP figures and media outlets) to smear Senator Rhiannon with supposed sins of her past – rather than do the hard work of assessing her record as a politician in NSW and Federally.

But now it’s Barry O’Farrell who is a Stalinist.  Apparently.  The Premier of NSW wants to set in train a strengthening of anti-discrimination laws that would work to convict those who set out to racially vilify.  This has got a range of reactionaries huffing and puffing, expecting their man BOF to tow their line of being able to say and do whatever they like. So, Michael Smith has complained and Menzies House has issued a warning. Andrew Bolt, has gone further, calling O’Farrell an “idiot” and that such an inquiry “is against the spirit of the law” and “straight out of the Leninist playbook”.  Not just Leninist –

But Bolt asked why Mr O’Farrell didn’t simply “set a quota of how many racists he wants hauled before the courts? Why not just do it as Lenin used to do, as Stalin used to do?”

I’m surprised Bolt didn’t mention Lee Rhiannon in this spray. This invocation of Stalin can be seen as being as bad for arguments as Godwin’s Law. So, we need a name for it. I propose the Mercader Principle, after the assassin that Stalin sent in to kill Trotsky.  If you want to kill something, get an assassin to come with a machine gun and an icepick. If you can’t kill it with the machine gun, get the icepick and hack your subject to pieces with it.

The Mercader Principle. Just watch it ramp up this year.

The Fuddy Duddy Classy Nation – Discreetly Hiding Our Diversity

Often, people like to think Australia as a nation is pretty funkily and nattily dressed. Every week, though, events occur that shine a mirror onto ourselves that show that’s not the case.  Two recent events have shown this – one is the request by middle aged breakfast TV host David Koch for women to be “discreet” about breast feeding; the other Parramatta Council asking an LGBTI support organisation to take down a sign at its “Rediscover the River” festival.

The one that is attracting the most comment currently is the reaction to David Koch’s comments about breastfeeding on Sunrise.  I won’t add much to this discourse, because there have been plenty of very good posts about it, such as this one in the Hoopla and Kat Gallow’s succinct post. It speaks volumes for where we are as a society that such a person’s statements are given the credence and space in our discourse.  One can imagine the conversations happening today in our workplaces, restaurants, on Facebook and in comments sections, such as this one in The Punch.  Having been in such conversations at my previous workplace, I have an idea of what will be said. There will be all varieties of the concept of “classy”, “discreet”, “women should just find a room” and that sort of thing – from men and women.  The fact that breastfeeding in public is lawful and shouldn’t really be anyone else’s business doesn’t seem to come into this a great deal – women are being made to feel as though the natural act of breastfeeding is somehow shameful and needs to be done with approval by society. That’s why TV clowns and other people are allowed to throw words like “classy” and “discreet” into a discourse on how women can act in public.    It shows that when the mirror is held up to us on this issue, we seem to be wearing whatever conservative middle aged Anglo-Celt man clothes David Koch has on.

David Koch

The other issue that should be attracting outrage (but, in comparison to the Koch issue, currently isn’t) is the move by Parramatta City Council to ask LGBTI advocacy group Twenty10 to take down an “offensive” sign put up at the council’s “Rediscover the River” festival on Thursday.  This is the sign.

Twenty10

It’s a sign advertising support services for a group of people in western Sydney who are frequently marginalised, discriminated against and made to feel shame for their sexuality and gender identity.  The services of Twenty10 are desperately needed by those in western Sydney who have experienced homophobia throughout their daily lives, both in public and at home. To my eyes, at least, it can be seen in no way as offensive to anyone (unlike, to me at least, many banners in the same region that degrades women or advertises gambling services).  The event was advertised as a family day, with events that were meant to show the diversity of the area. However, the organisers of the event asked the Twenty10 organisers to take down the sign because people at the event found it offensive.  Originally, a Twenty10 organiser interviewed by Linda Mottram on ABC 702 believed it was the Lord Mayor of Parramatta, John Chedid, who made the complaint – but this has been countered by Parramatta City Council in this official Facebook statement.

Parramatta City Council Statement

“Numerous complaints made by members of the public”.  Members of the Fuddy Duddy Nation.  The organisers of the event should should have told these complainants that their complaints are noted and then ignore the homophobia, rather than feeding it by giving in.  The same goes for workplaces and public spaces where the fuddy duddies complain about breast feeding mothers. It would have also been a good move for the organisers to consult with the council on the issue.  This is because councils and other bodies should just be saying that “it’s legal and it’s right” to those complaining – but it is easier and less complicated for them to just give in to the Fuddy Duddy Mob.  The mirror shown to us in response to the cave in by the organisers of the Rediscover the River event shows that there are people near us with “We Don’t Have Gays Around Here, So Why Do They Need Support” badges. I find this acceptance of continuing homophobia more disturbing than the Koch silliness.

These events show that the Fuddy Duddy Nation is not discreet or classy in its open discrimination against breast feeding mothers and the LGBTI community.  They hold all the cards, all the power.  The battle continues against their draconian ways.

Five Photos a Day – Glancing at Europe – Day 10 Part 2 – The Globe Theatre

Part of the borderline insane schedule we’d set ourselves was seeing Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe. It was a great highlight, helping us to understand exactly why Shakespeare’s audience was enthralled and sucked into the drama.

1. Southwark Bridge. They like to play with colour under the Southwalk Bridge, a nice sight when one walks towards the Globe.

Southwalk Bridge

Southwalk Bridge

2 – 5. The Globe. It’s a fascinating place to see Shakespeare performed, from the groundlings to the theatre in the round. Plus, there was the added bonus of a bit of pre theatre music, including a very cute viol player.

Globe 1

Globe 1

Globe 2

Globe 2

Cute Viol Player

Cute Viol Player

Exterior of the Globe

Exterior of the Globe

 

 

 

Five Photos a Day – Glancing at Europe – Day 10 Part 1 – London Cliches

Returning to London, on Day 10, we went to stay in South London this time, another relatively inexpensive place to stay. No view, of course. I went out and photographed some London Cliches, with a twist, of course.

1. Some People are Gay… Stonewall was running a campaign on the side of buses – in people’s faces, which was great. It would be good to see a similar campaign run here. It was a bit stark, though, coming from Iceland, which elected its first gay Prime Minister not all that long ago.

Some People Are Gay...

Some People Are Gay…

2. Barbarellas. I didn’t check if the staff wore costumes from the film.

Barbarellas

Barbarellas

3. The Phallic London Buildings. London likes a building springing straight into the air.

Big Ben

Big Ben

London Monument

London Monument

4. Spiral Staircase. One climbs up the London Monument to do two things – look at London, and look down the spiral staircase.

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

5. London Misty Day. I’m sure someone won an award for this building – it’s fairly unremarkable, but looked better disappearing into the mist.

Misty London

Misty London

 

 

 

 

Five Photos a Day – Glancing at Europe – The Churches Of Iceland – A Special Feature

The second feature of the day is showing more about the churches of Iceland – quite a stunning set of buildings.

1. Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

2. Reykholtskirkja

Reykholtskirkja

Reykholtskirkja

3. Abandoned Church on Route 523

Abandoned Church on Route 523

Abandoned Church on Route 523

4. Hvalfjordur Church – Next to the Hotel Glymur

Hvalfjordur Church

Hvalfjordur Church

5. Skalholt Cathedral

Inside Skalholt Cathedral

Inside Skalholt Cathedral

Stained glass at Skalholt

Stained glass at Skalholt

Skalholt

Skalholt

 

 

 

 

Five Photos a Day – Glancing at Europe – The Architecture Of Iceland – A Special Feature

When in Iceland, we saw a number of interesting houses. The photos today are architectural highlights of the week.

1. Borganes. 

Borganes

Borganes

2. Blue House – Akranes

Blue House - Akranes

Blue House – Akranes

3. Two Story House on Route 518

Two Story House on Route 518

Two Story House on Route 518

4. Farmhouses

Farmhouse

Farmhouse

Abandoned Farmhouse 2

Abandoned Farmhouse 2

5. Houses in Reykjavik

Red House

Red House

Reykjavik Street

Reykjavik Street