2 things I’ve learnt about Tony Abbott today
Tonight I dined alone at a hotel restaurant, normally one of life’s more miserable experiences, where one often effectively goes for dinner with a small computer as companion. Which is certainly how the other solo diners were occupied while I was there. However, I did something I consider somehow morally superior to staring at a phone. I stared at a real life magazine, and no Famous! for me, I read the Monthly.
And I want to share with you 2 things I learnt about Tony Abbott over dinner.
Where are the policies?
First off, I wondered why the Opposition has no policies. Well, the answer allegedly is because Abbott worked on John Hewson’s campaign to beat Paul Keating. In this campaign, Hewson released one of the best opposition policy documents we’ve seen in Australia, and he released it 12 months ahead of the election. Bravo! you say. Not so fast. Hewson lost what was considered an unloseable election precisely because he had too much policy which enabled Keating to go to town and scare people and find the devil in the detail. So, fastforward 20 years and Abbott is painfully aware that the risks or releasing actual detailed policy are far greater than the risks of being accused of having no policies. The downside for us voters who can see beyond the smoke and mirrors, is it means we really don’t know what Tony will do if he gets elected this year.
Values Tony vs Politics Tony
The second thing I learnt was a resolution of the two Tonies: Values Tony is the staunch conservative, Catholic, anti climate change, anti abortion Tony. And Politics Tony is the one who is quite happy to jettison values and prior commitments in order to get where he wants to. The Monthly’s view is that Politics Tony usually wins. Tony knows that he can’t impose his vision of the world onto the rest of Australia, and that he won’t win the election by being hardline in this country. So he is quite happy to do what he does best and just disagree with whatever the government does. He is on record saying that the role of Opposition is to hold the government to account and only support those initiatives that are beyond reasonable doubt for the benefit of Australia. Which in practice means he disagrees with the government as a default strategy .
So, for me, the Monthly article shed a little light on the strategies of being Opposition leader, and explained the nuances of the battle between incumbent and challenger. The incumbent can’t hide behind vague ideas and policies, they are accountable for their record. But they are also the devil you know. The challenger can in theory promise anything to get to power, but in actual fact the political game pushes them towards the negativity we know and loathe, and discourages them from revealing any policies.
What do voters make of it all?
When it’s all said and done, much of this is lost on us voters anyway. Because, shockingly, the major thing we vote on is….how a candidate looks. In the 2010 UK election, the best in looking candidate won in no less than 72% of marginal seats!
Which is potentially another reason the coalition should have another look at Turnbull…
Posted by Rob Pyne
Disclaimer: I have attempted to write this as objectively as possible. Thanks to the Monthly for a great article, full version here.