One of the points I’ve made over and over again, before, during and after the 2007 election was that the electorate had tired of the noise level; the ranting and raving and constant theatrics of the Howard government. In voting for Kevin Rudd, people were voting, among other things, for someone who appeared safe, reassuring and confident; someone who wouldn’t constantly be in their faces with culture wars, wars and the politics of fear. Now Tony Abbott is taking us back to the future, and not just through the resurrection of the Madame Tussaud gallery of Howard front benchers. All the masculinist rhetoric we’re currently hearing (including that of “Abbott’s army”) is precisely what most people don’t want from their pollies at this point in time.
On Lateline tonight, Liberal frontbencher and new Immigration shadow minister Scott Morrison, claimed, in defending Barnaby Joyce’s mad ravings, that folks didn’t want “clones and drones”.
Let’s make a number of further points about this claim, and Joyce’s effusions.
(a) It may well be that some Labor ministers can be represented as clones and drones (though others, like Julia Gillard, are able to get the message across with more than a bit of wit and verve). But they’re not just on message – unlike the Libs, who continue to be, in Terry Flew’s words, chronic attention seekers, and will make themselves the story even when not openly brawling with each other – they’re also appearing as calm, measured, assured, apolitical. And Kevin Rudd is a much better communicator than he’s given credit for. He saves the bureaucrat-speak for his COAG performances and the like, where he actually doesn’t want the soundbite widely disseminated. Watching what does actually get on the 7pm news shows that his poll ratings are not an artefact of chance, or the lack of a good opposition, or whatever.
(b) Following on from that observation, it is just nuts to have the more savvy members of the media (that is, those that aren’t busily writing stories about the excellence of a frontbench that will take up the ‘fight’) competing with ministers to goad either Abbott or Joyce into sillier and sillier statements.
(c) Joyce’s populist stuff plays to a rural and regional base with a petit bourgeois mentality. At best, it’s targeted to farmers and small business; at worst, it’s pretty close to LaRouchite speak. There are just not that many voters with a mindset receptive to this sort of thing who aren’t already voting for the Coalition, and the fiction that ‘battlers’ will go with know-nothing nativism ignores the rock of WorkChoices. How many times will Eric Abetz have to deny that he still believes penalty rates are evil?
(d) Constantly carrying on like a pork chop might appear to an illusory base, or rather help to reconstruct such a base, but flicking the switch to populism disguises the change in the nature of right wing politics away from neo-liberal reverence for the market. It won’t be to the taste of big business. It’s not dissimilar to the worldview of elements of the state Nats in Queensland (surprise, surprise). As Andrew Elder has argued, Tony Abbott isn’t just captive to Nick Minchin, he’s effectively become Barnaby’s patsy too. Barnaby won’t so much care about winning the next election. He’s more interested in keeping the Nats alive, and in an echo of the Queensland LNP, working for the National-isation of the federal Coalition.
It’s interesting to watch, but it isn’t a path to federal electoral competitiveness.
(e) The Abbott/Joyce mob, in the absence of the shift to a more robust level of public funding (and those bills are likely to have a long ride through to Senate passage), may be anticipating that kicking the populist can will lead to some sort of grassroots effusion of donations. It didn’t work for ‘Joh for PM’, but then he didn’t have the internet.
But the problem here is that they’re then captive to their base, and it will make it harder for them to make the sorts of noises they need to make to be seen as ‘responsible economic managers’.
…Welcome to Barnaby’s Wombat Trail.
Update: Barnaby and the CEC.
Update: More from Andrew Elder:
In 2007, the Liberals could not get used to the idea that Howard was leading them into perdition. In 2009, the Abbott Experiment is all about the idea that Howard-style conservatism is an idea that has not been properly tried, let alone exhausted. It’s an idea held by nobody who doesn’t vote Liberal/National/CEC already.