Fear and Groaning on the Campaign Trail

April 8, 2013

Image credit: www.3aw.com.au

Another election year means another chance to watch the PR spin machine kick into overdrive. Now, whilst putting on the Gonzo Journalism hat and watching proceedings unfold in real time is not a luxury we can all afford, you may notice, that from time to time, us folk at The Lab won’t be able to sit still with some of the thrills and spills on the campaign trail, as there’s usually a lot going on to make us laugh (or cry).

It appears that very little has been learnt by both the ALP and Coalition since the 2010 election – an election that was notoriously noted for two parties failing to really differentiate themselves and garner genuine public support on the basis of policy and vision.

In fact, since our last election – the first which ended in a hung parliament since 1940 – it’s quite remarkable to note that not a hell of a lot has changed (aside from one party’s popularity rating). The Labor party’s governance and decision making has been overshadowed by leadership instability, whilst at the same time, the Coalition has maintained a reactive approach to policy formulation and failed to provide a compelling vision of where they’d like to take the country (and how they’d like to do it).

Although many Australians may yearn for some more inspiring politics from both of the major parties (and their leaders), at best it would appear optimistic and at worst fanciful to expect much to change given what we’ve seen in the last 6 months. If anything, it appears that both Gillard and Abbott are set on the strategic route of earning their mandate from the Australian people through undermining each other’s capabilities. Both are doing this in different ways, and it is with great curiosity that we are watching how their approaches pan out.

The Gillard Offensive

Having thrown her misogynist play out across the floor in October of last year, Gillard’s efforts to undermine Abbott have been largely focused on engendering public concern around the prospect of her direct opponent taking the reigns as P.M.

This play appears to be double pronged. Firstly, given her slump in the popularity polls, attacking the front-runner candidate allows Julia to take on the role of the underdog – an ironic position to be utilized by any incumbent leader. Through casting herself as a battler against a man she has depicted in the mould of an arcane ruler, she is implicitly seeking to brand herself as the more relatable candidate through illustrating how out of touch Tony is with the ordinary Australian. Yet this is only part of the strategy.

Perhaps the more compelling reason for attacking her opponent, is that Gillard is dying for Tony to engage her in a fight – in the hope that he will slip and irreparably damage himself. The reality is, at the present moment, Tony is looking much cleaner than Julia, and she needs to make sure he gets a bit muddier to regain some of her public appeal.

The Abbott Offensive

Whilst Gillard beats her war drum in attempt to draw Abbott into the ring, the shadow P.M’s approach is almost the opposite. If ever silence was golden, it would appear to be the case right now in Tony’s world.

Since the misogyny blast he copped some 6 months ago, Abbott would have no doubt been advised to dance cautiously with Julia – as to come across in a disparaging, personal fashion could potentially provide her with some heavy ammunition to dish out another public whipping. Instead, Tony has left the ‘competence’ offensive to his team, with members like Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop throwing the more directed attacks to undermine the P.M’s credibility.

When Tony sparks up, he undermines Labor and Gillard on the grounds of  ‘poor policy’ rather than conduct. Given Abbott isn’t all that relatable to most ordinary Australians, he’s going to be more than happy to hold back on the direct insults and not get into the dogfight that Gillard craves – he’ll ensure he undermines her indirectly as long as he possibly can.

Where to next?

So all in all, what can we expect in coming months? Well, last month Gillard began to start a fear campaign around Work Choices – the legislation that brought the Liberal Party crashing down in 07 and indeed legislation for which Abbott was largely responsible. Fear is a powerful political tool that can be utilized to great effect, but funnily enough, like the misogyny play, it seems as though Julia may be firing some of her most powerful shots too early. What we can most likely expect to see, is continued attempts by the P.M to draw Abbott into the dirt. Yet until he’s forced to fight head to head - we’re really looking forward to the debates -  it’s doubtful that he’ll be rolling up the sleeves anytime soon.