Saturday, 17 July 2010

Focus Tested or Untested? The 2010 Federal Election

Elections are to me like several weeks worth of Christmas Days. The heightened sense of theatre and the pure political blood sport of it all are what make them so entertaining. When new Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced today that the 2010 Federal election would be held on August 21st I was really, really excited.

Although I have an obvious stake in the outcome of wanting my beloved ALP to be returned to government this election is different. Unlike the three other Federal Elections I have followed closely I feel as if I don’t have a particular affinity with the ALP leader for reasons previously discussed on this blog. In that sense I feel as if I’ll be able to judge the respective performance of the leaders more objectively then on any other of the previous occasions, particularly given my research area for my PhD.

The phrase ‘moving forward’ dominated Gillard’s opening statement, continuing the modern tradition of political campaigns being overwhelmed by ubiquitous catch phrases. In 2007, Rudd used ‘New Leadership’ to great effect in order to limit the power of John Howard’s well defined incumbency. In the election prior to that John Howard used the phrase ‘Who Do You Trust?’ to crucify Mark Latham in 2004. Gillard used the phrase ‘moving forward’ or a variation on that theme at least 28 times today during her half hour long press conference, ‘moving forward’ so often it was enough to give me motion sickness. If it wasn’t obvious enough already it was clear from Gillard’s opening statement that she will utter no phrase without it being work shopped in a focus group first. Voters may well and truly be sick of the message, but at least we know what the message is.

In contrast Abbott had no definable message. Crikey Political Correspondent Bernard Keane points out:

Tony Abbott gave a similarly content-free press conference, using a short – too short – announcement (in a poorly-prepared venue in Brisbane, with no backdrop and bad lighting) to attack Julia Gillard and particularly her apparent obsession with “moving forward”.

This to me highlights the essential problem of Abbott’s truly inept performance. He failed to articulate any vision for the future: instead preferring to cede ground to Labor. On the very first day of the election campaign, arguably one of the most important, the Coalition is fighting on Labor’s turf. Labor has been able to set the agenda without being challenged. Consequently voters will remember the ‘moving forward’ slogan, but they won’t remember anything that Abbott had to say. As Mark Bahnisch observes at Larvatus Prodeo:

Julia Gillard’s performance was assured. Tony Abbott, by contrast, speaking from Brisbane where he’d ambiguously promised to embrace Labor’s Fair Work Act (but with a bit of “tweaking”), got off to a very shaky start, with a surprisingly quick address to the media. He didn’t convince as an alternative PM, struggling to move beyond the posture of carping opposition leader. He also emphasised trust, pointedly asking whether Julia Gillard could be trusted by the people if Kevin Rudd could not trust her. Abbott has a parallel problem to Gillard: just as she needs to both embrace and distance herself from her predecessor, he wants to claim that the Howard government gave us competence and security, while avoiding the very real negatives which led to its rejection in 2007

What does this mean for the rest of the five week campaign? It’s hard to say but perhaps the best analysis so far belongs to Peter Brent at Mumble:
Labor “hardheads” may reckon that in a campaign the Gillard hooplah will end and Abbott will come under scrutiny. But Julia is still the centre of attention. Tony may remain under the radar.

Under normal circumstances Abbott would be all but unelectable from opposition.

But this campaign isn’t normal because Gillard has contrived to make it a contest between two opposition leaders. In deliberately eschewing her government’s record, she may find she carries its negatives but none of the positives.

Gillard is not the safe, boring option and Abbott looks less risky by comparison.

This opposition leader is a proven gaffe-maker and says odd things on occasion.

But the prime minister’s political instincts are also open to question. She seems susceptible to big stories about “values”, “cut through” and “momentum”. That way lies danger.

As I wait to see which of these predictions come true, check back to this blog for semi regular coverage of the 2010 Australian Federal Election. I will be providing analysis on the key showpiece events of the campaign: the debate(s), the launches, other major events and of course the night itself. I will be looking at the election from a national perspective, so I encourage those of you who are interested in this election to comment and encourage your friends to join the fun too. Also, If you are not following me on Facebook or Twitter, please do so for access to constant updates.

Strap in, and buckle up because the fun has only just begun.

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