In a fit of predictability, incumbent Labor Premier Alan “I used to be a credible journalist, don’t you know” Carpenter is promising “vision, leadership, and stability” – the last one of the three, at least, might play to Labor’s strengths.
Resurrected Liberal leader Colin “Don’t mention the canal” Barnett is promising that he’s not Troy Buswell. And doesn’t at all look like the kind of bloke who could be caught sniffing chairs.
The first night is all about predictability – Barnett is claiming that the snap election has been called because Labor is running scared (of him, presumably). Carpenter is denying that the snap election has been called to take advantage of the leadership turmoil in the Liberal ranks.
Despite some rustlings of dissent from the local commentariat – local political commentators are largely calling the move a political mistake – a call based largely, I suspect, on the idea that if Barnett isn’t as thoroughly unpopular as Buswell was, the Libs should therefore cruise to an easy win.
There may be something to that view – certainly Buswell was regarded in WA with the kind of amused contempt that makes it difficult to get any political traction, and it is entirely possible that WA electors have forgotten exactly why it is they didn’t vote for Barnett last time. And there is no doubt at all that Carpenter isn’t held in the same regard as Geoff Gallop, and certainly doesn’t have the same campaigning experience as his predecessor.
But when you consider the raw mechanics of Carpenter’s decision, it starts to look like a potentially very good decision indeed.
Item: Barnett has been in the job for a day. He probably hasn’t even appointed a chief of staff, let alone a strong trusted team around him.
Item: Barnett and WA Liberal President Barry Court hate each other. Court has been leading the public charge defending Buswell’s leadership in recent weeks, and has clearly been caught out badly by the sudden change in heart in the parliamentary party. This is something that could probably have been talked out, given time – but they don’t have time.
Item: A change in leadership means the Libs have no campaign material prepared – no photos of the leader, no photos of the leader with candidates, no pre-prepared ads for television, their style guide is suddenly is out of date – they have close to nothing, unless party office is a lot more organised than they’ve seemed to be over the last six months.
Item: A change of leadership always means a change of policy (don’t mention the canal, dammit!). While the Libs to date have been pretty thin on publicly stated policy, they presumably have some stashed away for the election. Not only will the leader’s new office have to go through this, the risk they run is that a shadow minister will get caught on the hop, and be promptly contradicted by the new leader. Now, as Rudd’s run amply demonstrates, you can get away with this a couple of times in a campaign, but maybe not so much when your opponent’s narrative is all about portraying you as clueless and disorganised.
Item: Barnett is not popular with the lay Liberal Party. Again, you can get over this, but not in the two days Barnett has had. This will hurt on the ground, in a way it shouldn’t.
Item: The WA Libs have very little money – corporate and wealthy individual donors haven’t been kicking in to a campaign they have presumed doomed by Buswell’s chair sniffing antics. There now isn’t much time to fix this – individual candidates may have cash but party office does not. And while WA Labor’s fundraising efforts have been pitiful compared to the rampant
corruption corporate schmoozing seen in other states, they have enough of a war chest to make a proper run at it.
Item: A snap election means that government departments won’t have time to get properly non-partisan in time for the election. The WA government has a bunch of health, apprenticeship and Laura Norder ads running at the moment, and it will probably take a week or so for those that are still pre-booked to get withdrawn. Free advertising for the incumbent doesn’t always win an election, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, particularly when you have a ready made excuse…
Item: The Olympics will suck all of the oxygen out of everything for the next month. Getting traction is going to be very difficult, which also won’t hurt the incumbent.
Figure: Labor is ready for this campaign, the Libs are not. Confusion in the ranks will cost them at least a week of a very short campaign while they fix their material and get it out onto the ground. This will hurt, when there’s not much oxygen to be had late in the campaign.
Figure: The confusion will cost Barnett more time and energy putting out spot fires, minor f*ck-ups and policy blunders than it will Carpenter – and that will play into the Labor narrative. Snap campaigns take discipline to survive, and Labor will have that in spades.
Figure: Both Barnett and Carpenter get a bit… how can we put it… tetchy… under pressure. But Barnett’s under more pressure now, and everyone knows it – especially him.
Figure: The internecine internal Liberal warfare will spill over into public. It’s been going on too long not to. At the very least, Matt Birney will spit the dummy at some stage.
Money where mouth is: despite its many flaws, this Labor government has one more term in it. Labor by eight seats.