We're approximately at the half-way point between Rudd taking over the Labor leadership last December, and a likely November election, and it seems like a good time to take stock of how things are going.
On the face of it, pretty darn well. Even after Costello's "big spending...on everyone we in the Coalition like" budget last week, Labor has "surged ahead" (I love the language of the pundits) in the polls, leading the Coalition 18 points on a two-party preferred basis. Things seem pretty rosy for Rudd and Labor right now, as even Howard admits (though he could just be trying to claim the valuable "underdog status", so beloved of Australian pollies in the lead up to an election).
Having been burned so badly by the 2004 Federal election, I can't help but remember that the poll results were looking good for Labor back then too, but as this graph (scroll down) shows, Labor's poll performance now is far ahead of where it was three years ago.
Leaving that aside, it's fair to ask what, exactly, Rudd/Gillard and Labor have done to attract these positive figures. I was concerned enough when they assumed the leadership to beg of them, "Please, for the love of God, don't f**k this up". They haven't. But they haven't done much of anything else either.
Getting the smug, slack, arrogant Coalition government out of office after the eleven years they've had to make Australia a country fundamentally diminished in so many ways must be the top priority. And whilst any alternative would be welcome, it would be great if the alternative really was an alternative. Labor have announced no radical new policies, no dramatic shifts in thinking, taken almost no risk at all. They merely take cues from the Coalition; if the Government is doing something that Australians seem to like, Labor vows that they will do the same and lots more of it. If the Coalition's position something unpopular (Iraq, the IR laws), Labor takes the path of least resistance in deciding where to stand.
But in terms of taking a brave stand of their own - silence. The Labor party cannot really call itself left-wing, or even Third Way. It's seems to be more a case of looking at the sentiments of the Not Happy John brigade and saying "Not John. Happy?". It's not enough, and could well send those of us looking for a real alternative into the arms of the minor parties. I'll be voting Labor at the Federal election, because as I've said removing the Howard government is the most important thing Australia has to do right now. But I don't like this pact with the devil I feel I've been forced into. As much as I wish Rudd would take a stand - on gay marriage, phasing out Australia's use of fossil fuels, re-evaluation the U.S. alliance - I know it won't happen, as he'd rather be standing on the winner's podium come election night. Understandable, but the frustration at this lack of real courage is enough to make you scream.
Mm, well said. I love the 'Not John. Happy?' line!ReplyDelete
It's not mine, unfortunately...Will Anderson used it on The Glass House (I miss that show!)ReplyDelete
If the Labor party doesn't stand for any of the principles/policies you've just stated (gay marriage, etc), then why bother voting for them? You'd be better off voting for the Greens or Democrats. In most cases, their preferences go to Labor anyway.
There was recently a similar conversation going on over at Metafilter.com, to which user Jimbob had some comments to say that pretty much reflect my own personal thoughts too:
"This is what scares me. Rudd reminds me ever so slightly of Mark Latham.
I loved Latham when he was a shadow minister; he didn't pull any punches, he went on the attack, he made radical statements. He was clearly a nutter, but he was my nutter. When he ascended to the leadership of the Labor party, and the election loomed closer, he changed completely. Suddenly, you knew everything he said had first been past a focus group, and every policy statement was a response to some kind of private Labor party polling. It was all walking on egg shells, playing the numbers, struggling desperately not to upset anyone.
In the end, of course, that strategy failed completely, and Mark Latham is still considered a nutter.
Kevin Rudd, when he was a shadow minister, appeared a very smart, well-spoken politician. I wasn't his hugest fan, but I could see he was good at what he did. But, it seems, now he's leader of the opposition, he's heading down that same path of bollock-less, lowest-common-denominator, focus-group tested poli-speak. He doesn't seem sincere, and I can only imagine that that's because he's not saying what he thinks, he's saying what he's been told to say. And that's dangerous. Because the one thing Howard is good at is speaking for himself. I'm not saying Howard isn't poll driven - of course he is. But you get the impression John Howard reads the polls then decides himself how to tackle it, while over at the Labor party, some apparatik reads the polls, meeting are organised, the power-brokers and factional leaders are contacted, some speech-writers get together, catch phrases are tested...then somewhere down the line Kevin Rudd gets a piece of paper to read his comments off. And to be honest, the exact same thing has happened to Julia Gillard - another old favourite of mine who is now acting like someone's been putting Valium in her weeties.
But shit, maybe I'm cynical. The public seems to like Rudd, judging from the polls, so I might be imagining it all."