In stark contrast to last week when I went to the Unisex Amateur Strip Night, tonight I went to a rather erudite discussion at Glebe Books about the forthcoming Federal Election, followed by tapas at a nearby Spanish restaurant. The occasion was a discussion between former ABC journalist and now political aspirant, Maxine McKew and Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Peter Hartcher. I admire them both for the consistently even hand approach they have demonstrated in their professional careers. The discussion was organised, though, in the days before McKew nailed her political colours to the flagpole. As such, what was probably going to be fairly independent and dispassionate discussion between two commentators on the state of Australian politics, took on a more overtly political hue.
I can’t decide, however, if the crowd was overwhelmingly an ALP-supporting audience, or if they were a crowd of ABC-TV viewers who just love Maxine McKew. The audience consensus was the former, but I suspect a fair degree of the latter, as McKew was welcomed with rapturous applause, and there was a fair bit of rubber-necking occuring, as the audience angled for a “real life view” (off-screen) of Maxine.
So although Peter was supposed to be the centre of attention, much of the attention (for the first half at least) was focussed on Maxine. Perhaps it was just as well, then, that she had to leave early to attend her first ALP branch meeting, as attention became focussed back on Peter Hartcher’s book, which has a very interesting central thesis.
At the heart of Hartcher’s book is a multi-faceted argument which explains why he believes Kevin Rudd and Labor (despite the current opinion polls) will still find it difficult to win this year’s Federal Election. Hartcher observed tonight that, historically speaking, Labor’s popularity has usually peaked, and John Howard’s popularity has usually bottomed, six to eight months out from the election. Hartcher also observed that, at the Federal level at least, Australians have preferred Liberal/National Federal Govenrments.
Hartcher explains this preference for State Labor Governments and Coalition Federal Governments in terms of “mummy” and “daddy” politics. That (and this is a generalisation) at the state level, we want governments who will care for us in the areas of health and education (for example), while at the national level, we want governments who will look after us, and sometime be tough, when it comes to national security and the economy. In the first instance, McKew responded to this conceit as one which waas “incredibly paternalistic”, but then offered the argument that Howard was the old-fashioned daddy who had failed to keep up with the times, while Rudd was new, younger father who was in touch with his children and was open to the ideas of the new world.
A recurrent theme for McKew, and perhaps indicative of the way in which Labor will position itself at the Federal Election, was the idea that Kevin Rudd offered solutions to an uncertain future, and that staying with John Howard was a “risk” because “he didn’t”. In common with Hartcher’s theme that Australians only choose Labor Federal Governments in difficult times (the 1940’s when we were at war and the 1980s when interest rates were at 22% and the resources boom had all but collapsed), McKew argued the challenges of climate change, mean the time is right for another federal Labor Government.
Despite the opinion polls which suggest a Federal Labor victory this year, with Kevin Rudd clearly the preferred Prime Minister, both McKew and Hartcher observed the rubbery-ness of the figures. Both noted that on the key issues of national security and economic management, the opinion polls show Howard remains the preferred choice.
Hartcher argued that unless Labor can convince the electorate they can be trusted on these key issues, they won’t be able to unseat the Coalition. McKew agreed, though, she noted the difference between Howard and Rudd on these issues was narrowing. To support his argument, Hartcher quoted a Rudd analogy that Labor was like one of those multi-layered Babooshka dolls. Rudd’s analogy was that Labor would only be “trusted” federally if the electorate was convinced of their credentials on the outer-layers of the national security and the economy, that the electorate won’t look inside unless they are happy with the outer layers. Hartcher explained that when he recently asked Rudd about where climate-change fitted within this, Rudd said “somewhere between the two”.
Oh yeah, and fellow Sydney blogger, Glen Fuller from Event Machinics works there. Hi Glen…
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!”