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The least popular weasel wins

Written By: - Date published: 9:55 am, August 27th, 2013 - 36 comments
Categories: australian politics - Tags: ,

In the odd moments that I have to view and write about politics outside NZ at present, I happened upon a Wall Street Journal article this morning about the election contest in aussie that got me thinking.

Australia is leaning toward electing its first conservative government in six years, to be led by a man considered by some to have been unelectable due to his tough conservative views on issues ranging from climate change to abortion and gay marriage.

Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition, goes into the Sept. 7 election with his backing parties in pole position. His Liberal National coalition has pulled clear of the center-left Labor government in opinion polls, after both sides were briefly tied as recently as three weeks ago.

That is certainly the case if you read the most recent Roy Morgan poll. The majority is likely to be small but enough

However it was the other part of the article that I found most interesting.

Still, many voters are cautious about Mr. Abbott, whose personal ratings continue to lag those of Mr. Rudd, even as opinion polls point toward a big victory for the Liberal National coalition. “He’s still unpopular, that’s the paradox,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a Melbourne-based political analyst at Monash University. “It highlights how, in the Australia system, we’re looking at the parties rather than the people leading them.”

Mr. Abbott was unavailable to be interviewed for this article.

The opposition leader’s record as health minister in the last conservative government under John Howard is unpopular with some voters, especially his views toward abortion. Younger Australians, in particular, dislike his stance on issues like global warming. Mr. Abbott once referred to arguments about the dangers of climate change as “absolute crap.” He also opposes same-sex marriages.

My italics. With the aussies I’ve met over the last couple of years, this is definitely the impression you get.  Even more than in NZ, the aussies are voting for what they consider are the most effective parties rather than the weasel running them. And they are both weasels and are generally perceived by the public there as being weasels.

As a political activist I don’t have a high opinion of Kevin Rudd. His erratic egocentricity and factional style of politics has effectively allowed the room for the Liberals to consolidate. It is not that the Liberals are popular because they are not. Especially amongst the australians less than 40, who find the conservatism and clear misogyny of the current Liberal party almost unfathomable to understand.

What is clear is that the Australian Labour caucus with its self-destructive fractionalisation and triumph of egotism in its caucus has managed to make themselves unelectable to the majority of voters. The Australian electorate will be voting against them. Ironically, from what I am hearing from activists over there, is that the party machinery, targeting and mobilisation is as good as I have ever heard about. It is entirely possible that they may be able to scrape a slim victory for the left simply because polling techniques are becoming increasingly less effective as the dominance of listed landlines diminishes.

However the media in Australia are (to put it mildly) strongly partisan in their own interests, just as they are here. But the NZ Herald’s self interested campaign against constraining advertising in the electoral reforms bill of 2007 is miniscule compared to the type of media campaigns that the media baron owned media do in aussie. They come down on the side of the interests of the money that own them with scare campaigns on everything from refugees to taxation on mining. They seize on any signs of fractures in a left-wing parties.

This type of personal self-indulgence inside a left wing caucus both here and there is something that doesn’t favour the cause that activists put their time and effort into. It is something that can be ill-afforded both here and obviously in Australia.

As I slowly drift away from being active in the Labour party and concentrate more on other more productive interests, it becomes more and more apparent to me how much I detest unproductive factionalism. I spent the 90’s largely ignoring it inside Labour and focused on the task of how to win elections. This got steadily more difficult through the noughts as the Labour party shuddered in a stasis to avoid it.

That was why I took to The Standard with such vigour slightly more than 6 years ago because here was a chance to do something outside of the stifling wasteland of an increasingly caucus centric party.

36 comments on “The least popular weasel wins”

  1. Progressive Paradox 1

    “detest unproductive factionalism. …. That was why I took to The Standard with such vigour slightly more than 6 years ago”

    Yes, because the writers of the standard certainly haven’t been advancing their own faction choice over the last few days have they? Please.

    • lprent 1.1

      Read the about.

      Authors write pretty much whatever they want. This means you are likely to get a range of views just as we did in the previous leadership debates back in 2011.

      Most of the ~45 odd authors are probably in wait and see mode.

      I suspect that many of the commenters are like that as well.

      Personally, I have a leaning towards Cunliffe simply because he has what I consider to be the requisite decade in parliament with significant ministerial experience. I also have reservations about him as being too inclined to being liked by everyone and saying what they want to hear. That is counter-balanced by his actual work record as a minister.

      Robertson worries me because he has had no ministerial experience, less than 5 years in parliament as an MP, and has displayed a monumental ignorance and lack of interest in how to win larger elections (Auckland is 35% of NZ’s population and he has been virtually unknown up here). I fear another experiment like David Shearer with a different shape and same result.

      But I will go and see what he has to say.

      Shane Jones is in my view a waste of time.

      • Progressive Paradox 1.1.1

        “This means you are likely to get a range of views just as we did in the previous leadership debates back in 2011.”

        On the front page, there is an article about how the union vote won’t necessarily go for Grant like claimed in the media, About how Cunliffe has “the moment of expectation”, that Shane Jones is the smoko room candidate (with NO mention of the fact that he is in Cunliffe’s campaign) and the same blogger who wrote this post writes, “Electorally this would be a effectively way of dragging “smoko room” votes to join to beltway votes.” which seems like another implicit endorsement of Cunliffe.

        I actually like Cunliffe and will probably vote for him and I like that the Standard bloggers can endorse whoever they want. But it seems to me that the majority of blog posts so far are overwhelmingly in the Cunliffe camp so claiming that “The Standard” is the bastion of breaking down factional barriers seems to me to be a load of tripe.

        • karol 1.1.1.1

          Many also say that they would like to see Robertson as deputy and the caucus united.

        • framu 1.1.1.2

          and if you looked at the front page on different days it will have different stuff

          i fail to see your point here

          • Progressive Paradox 1.1.1.2.1

            You’re right, but the point is that the articles re: Labour leadership are overwhelmingly pro-Cunliffe, as I say I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem with the author saying that the Standard somehow breaks down factional barriers.

            • Colonial Viper 1.1.1.2.1.1

              I have a problem with the author saying that the Standard somehow breaks down factional barriers.

              Please point where the author actually says this. I can’t see it.

              • Progressive Paradox

                “detest unproductive factionalism. …. That was why I took to The Standard with such vigour slightly more than 6 years ago”

                • Colonial Viper

                  So the author doesn’t actually say that The Standard breaks down factional barriers. You’ve simply taken a possible implication and run with it.

                • lprent

                  That doesn’t say that it breaks down fractional barriers. The key word is “unproductive”. Disagreement is useful. That is how you discover better techniques to get from the current position to the desired objectives, and even to find out what those objectives should be. Not learning from it is unproductive and getting into little defensive circles with small groups only talking to each other is simply useless.

                  I’m interested in making sure that people argue about and are aware of each others arguments. Not only inside the NZLP, but also across the broader labour/left movement.

                  That is what the about states. That is what we do. We don’t expect agreement – even between authors. In fact we encourage disagreement – it is more interesting and informative when coupled with behavioural constraints.

                  What we’re interested in is getting rid of the bloody awful siloing that the left has been prone to over the years.

                  BTW: I’m pretty much a faction of one, as I’m sure that many will attest. I rarely get involved in politics outside of operations. However I’m known for expressing my personal opinions bluntly, forthrightly, and with malice aforethought (diplomacy isn’t one of my interests).

        • Colonial Viper 1.1.1.3

          majority of blog posts so far are overwhelmingly in the Cunliffe camp so claiming that “The Standard” is the bastion of breaking down factional barriers seems to me to be a load of tripe.

          Firstly “factional barriers” are Labour Caucus and Labour leadership (in the wider sense of the word “leadership”) generated. They’re very little to do with The Standard.

          Secondly, have you written and submitted a pro Robertson or Jones post yourself, to The Standard? It doesn’t need to be long. Put down 200 words and make the case for Robertson or Jones.

          Thirdly, this is politics. People choose sides and back teams. Rallying cries of “unity for the greater good” don’t hold much water. Especially when the people saying them don’t seem to believe in the “greater good” themselves.

          • Progressive Paradox 1.1.1.3.1

            Firstly, I don’t disagree but these are re enforced by Labour membership and left-wing blogs.

            Secondly,I wouldn’t as I said I’m personally leaning towards Cunliffe.

            Thirdly, this seems to contradict your earlier points and doesn’t reflect my comment at all. I’m just saying that the authors of the standard seem pretty pro-Cunliffe and I don’t think it was the best place to write an article decrying factionalism.

            Also, this isn’t just something I’ve come up with. My local Labour MP mentioned their opinion that most of the Standard’s bloggers were in the Cunliffe camp.

            • Tracey 1.1.1.3.1.1

              Is it factionalism to express support for a particular leader? Or are you saying the people expressing support for Cunnliffe here undermined Shearer when he was leader and thus were part of the factionalising they decry?

            • karol 1.1.1.3.1.2

              The support for Cunliffe is noticeable here because it goes against the line spun by the ABCs via the MSM. Cunliffe also has been getting more support than Robertson in MSM and other polls. So, actually, the support of Cunliffe (allegedly) by the majority of Standardistas, is actually pretty much in line with the polls of the wider population.

              Gordon Campbell on the political factions in Labour & National:

              The notion that Labour in Opposition is somehow inherently more divided than National really is nonsense. National, at the best of times, has always been split between its traditional rural conservatives and its radical urban neo-liberals – and give National five minutes in Opposition and those divisions become screamingly apparent. In the not too distant future, the jostling and the undermining between the Joyce faction and the Collins faction will match and mirror any current divisions in the Labour ranks. That will be so, regardless of whether the current declarations of unity between the Labour contestants are genuine, or not.
              […]
              Keep that in mind over the next few weeks as you hear National MPs parrotting the lines of their leader about the divisions in Labour’s ranks. Not true. Eleven years ago, Bill English was the National Party’s equivalent of David Shearer. Then National changed its leader, got on the comeback trail, and lo, the divisions closed over and were heard from no more. Until next time.

              • expatriot

                +1 to this. I remember when coup rumours started swirling around Goff, the media were quick to point out Labour’s history of infighting etc…, as if it had been Labour who had rolled a sitting Prime Minister in their previous term in office, parachuted in an extremist mascarading as a ‘mainstream New Zealander’ to replace the ineffectual policy wonk they had as leader (under threat of the money disappearing) and later leaked private emails to the media to facillitate the replacement of the extremist with the toupee’d multi-millionaire ‘man of the people’ they have in charge now.

      • pollywog 1.1.2

        Shane Jones is in my view a waste of time.

        …and space. He’s the equivalent of a political black hole!

        If the Labour party cross that event horizon by electing him leader, expect all the light to be sucked out of it and all information entering him to be lost and reconstituted as garbled mish mash.

        In my not so humble opinion :)

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    That was why I took to The Standard with such vigour slightly more than 6 years ago because here was a chance to do something outside of the stifling wasteland of an increasingly caucus centric party.

    That’s a money quote, right there.

  3. Bill 3

    A bit of a follow on from comments made on this topic yesterday Lynn.

    Factionalism and power struggles in a caucus that is built around individuals – and that fails to espouse concrete principles or values – is almost inevitable and, of course, destructive.

    But in a caucus constructed around clear principles and values, is it not then sensible to insist that people either a) get on the bus or b) take a hike?

    Otherwise, the risk is that the dynamics of factionalism present in a caucus built around individuals/personalities will eventually become reasserted – meaning that any momentum gained by basing policy on core principles/values will stall and be lost.

    Like I commented two or three days ago – all too often the ‘good guy’ cuts the ‘bad guy’ some slack…just enough for the ‘bad guy’ to wrap around the ‘good guy’s’ neck at some later date. So, whereas some brutal clear-out would be insane and counter productive, I firmly believe that if values are going to be rediscovered by Labour and policies based on those values elevated, then it’s necessary that everyone in caucus has genuinely bought in to some degree or other.

    As for the others? Time to catch another bus, no?

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      As for the others? Time to catch another bus, no?

      Basically. The Labour Party has been used as a vehicle by people with too little belief in Labour ideals, for far too long.

      • Bill 3.1.1

        Well, that’s kind of my point. And I’m curious as to how that will be dealt with. Vacuous announcements of ‘loyalty’ to the leader only plays into the ‘caucus hanging from individual/personality’ bullshit all over again and sets the scene for factional power struggles in the future. As to how you judge the genuine level of ‘buy in’ of any given individual (assuming a return to core values and principles) is a tricky one, but one that has to be tackled imo.

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.2

        The concept of a Broad Church does not necessitate that Labour maintains a “neoliberal sector” or “lifetime careerist sector” amongst its caucus or members.

    • lprent 3.2

      Bill: drat, you just reminded me that I had something to reply back to you. I’ll look it up tonight… busy busy…

      The “take a hike” route invariably just goes down the religious schism route as the nutters keep finding smaller and smaller things to obsess about (and expel others for). Eventually it winds up as discussions about how you hold your pinkie while eating or the differences between sunni and shi-ite, or the strange doctrination differences between socialists in the late 19th century (or any other religious or political or social division you care to name).

      I’d agree that a general set of agreed principles is a good idea. But for any kind of broad movement these will be equally broad – because otherwise it is a narrow movement. The probability of getting two people to agree on a whole range of specifics is about as likely as it is in any marriage.

      So creative tension between people about the ways for proceeding from A to B are just inevitable. The trick is to figure out how to use those creatively without it spilling over into excessive inter-personal conflict. Most of the time this comes down to a set of accepted rules to confine the inevitable conflicts to being useful.

      So no. I think you’re wrong on this.

      • Bill 3.2.1

        So no. I think you’re wrong on this.

        Nah. No I’m not. :-) Look at it this way. Any political organisation requires a degree of genuine buy-in by participants. It’s not a case of how much or how pure – so in extra parliamentary activism, that could range from signing a petition or tooting a horn through to giving up free time to attend to organisational requirements etc.

        A crucial difference though – unlike the case of parliament and its salaries – there is no real incentive to be cunning or sly or dishonest about your involvement. The involvement of people is generally genuine – undercover cops or someone involved because they have the hots for somebody aside.

        Now I know that the more cult like left orgs get into this whole ‘holier than thou’ bullshit and ‘I’m toeing and understanding the party line better than you’, nonsense. I think that’s what you have in mind in your comment above and, insofar as that’s the case, I agree with you on where that winds up.

        But since I’m more interested in what you term ‘broad churches’ and getting as much involvement and participation from as many people as possible, the problem for me is protecting the integrity of that broad church by avoiding capture by personalities and cliques while also resisting dilution of core values via the adoption of lowest common denominators in the name of ‘unity’.

        So, where in extra parliamentary politics you might ease out the person who’s only there because they want into the pants of who-ever, so it has to be with the Labour Party for those in caucus who aren’t there for any of the right reasons.

        • lprent 3.2.1.1

          So, where in extra parliamentary politics you might ease out the person who’s only there because they want into the pants of who-ever, so it has to be with the Labour Party for those in caucus who aren’t there for any of the right reasons.

          That is a current question, hopefully with some kind of resolution coming up later this year.

          In the past with electorate seats you’d find that the selection became contested or the MP would lose their seat if they weren’t meeting the needs of their local membership and/or electorate. It didn’t happen often but it sure as hell was a bit of a permanent threat in electorates. MP’s in a large part became reflections of a goodly part of their electorates/membership or they didn’t survive. It didn’t mean that they reflected teh party as a whole. For instance think Damien O’Conner or George Hawkins or Helen Clark or Lianne Dalziel. Each are quite different to each other, have worked hard to retain majorities, and in large part they listen very carefully to their electorates.

          The problem in the NZLP and other parties under MMP is that the list selection rather than becoming place to bring new people on board, instead became a lifeboat for failed MPs. Personally I think that there is a place for electorate MP’s to be on the list is they found a home in a very marginal electorate. Someone who had a large majority shouldn’t be on the list at all. It gives them an incentive to work on retaining their majority. Mt Albert hasn’t been a natural labour electorate since I was a kid there, and especially since the widescale boundary changes from 1996 onwards. However both Warren Freer and Helen Clark managed to make it a safe Labour seat.

          The real question is how the MP’s and candidates get on the list. Right now there is little or no relationship between what goes on in selection meetings and what comes out at the end. It seems to most who get involved in it at regionals that they put in a list and then something completely unrelated to *any* regional list comes out. Hopefully that will get cleared up at conference. We see a series of golden parachutes instead for factional alliances..

  4. tc 4

    Yup it’s quite head shaking that Abbott will likely be PM in Oz, a barking loon let in by a self destructing labor party who simply can’t get to grips with the reality most of the hard work was done by Hawke/Keating/Button in the 80’s and 90’s.

    This laid the foundation of broader tax base (FBT, CGT) and compulsory super which saw Oz forge ahead, sure the minerals boom helped but there’s no taxes from it flowing into roads, schools etc as that’s PAYE/state taxes on property stamp duty etc doing that.

    The Lib’s added GST under johnny H.

    The minerals boom helped sections of Oz and it’s balance of payments but make no mistake the broader tax base and making people self fund their retirement are massive assists in balancing a gov’ts books.

    Kev will go close, that’s why he’s their as polling was predicting a slaughter under Gillard.

    • lprent 4.1

      Oh I agree that it will be close. However I think that much of the reason that Gillard was in trouble was because the Rudd effect was still stirring on a back boiler over the whole current term

      • Murray Olsen 4.1.1

        Rudd and Abbott have one thing in common – they will both do anything to be PM. Due to the way they read the Australian electorate, this includes a lot of obscenely bad rubbish such as refugee policy and intervention in the Northern Territory. The difference is that this obscenely bad rubbish is at the core of LNP beliefs, whereas Rudd can only adopt it by weakening the values of Labor. Australia really needs to rebuild the ALP, just as Kiwis need to rebuild Labour. I think Cunliffe is the right person to do it in Aotearoa, but I have no idea who can lead and inspire a rebuild of the ALP. Maybe Penny Wong, but she doesn’t seem to have the number of personality defects required when you look at Rudd, Gillard, Latham, Beazley…….

    • SHG (not Colonial Viper) 4.2

      I know some good people in the ALP, reasonably high up the food chain. At a recent function – yes, it was a barbecue – one of the attendees, a sitting MP, confided to me that many in the party regard a narrow defeat as the best possible outcome. It sounds like a big chunk of the ALP would rather lose than have Rudd as Prime Minister. Their own Leader.

  5. Greywarbler 5

    Cripes that graph looks like my 3 year grandchild’s art work! Full marks for colour and modern, edgy design.

    the stifling wasteland of an increasingly caucus centric party.
    …an increasingly party-centric party. And outside Party Centre the hoi polloi mill disconsolately noses pressed to the glass watching the streamers fly and a brief blooming of political vitality then a gradual reversion through the seasons back to wasteland.

    We must make the desert bloom and stay blooming well on the job.

  6. JonL 6

    “Kev will go close, that’s why he’s their as polling was predicting a slaughter under Gillard.”

    Trouble is, he’s acting like a cornered chook looking for the escape hole in the cage from an axe wielding Coalition party, flinging harebrained policies around like chaff! Mind you, Abbotts “we’ll solve the people smuggling problem by buying all the boats” must take the cake for sheer loonyness!

    The Libs are trying to place themselves as “fiscally responsible”, but, if the State governments are anything to go by, nothing could be further from the truth! And Abbot’s fronting grandiose schemes involving tens of Billions of dollars, whilst saying he’ll lower taxes, personal and company!!!! So, rightly so, everyone is saying “where will the money come from” and we all know where – the standard slash and burn tactics the right usually employ on the average citizenry whilst enriching the already rich “to stimulate the job market”. Bollocks.
    People here are voting against Labour (thanks Rupert Murdoch) , no-one likes the Greens (thanks Rupert Murdoch) and are very uneasy about the Lib/Nats but feel they don’t really have a choice (thanks again Rupert Murdoch)

  7. Sable 7

    Abbotts a baboon. It would be very bad for Australia if that creep wins. He’s every bit as bad as Keys.

  8. Mjoy 8

    I have just finished reading Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book, “The Stalking of Julia Gillard: How the Media and Team Rudd Brought down the Prime Minister”. Worth reading, because of what it reveals about the unethical behaviour of the Aussie MSM. Worth remembering that those same Aussie media companies dominate the NZ News market. Rudd and Abbott are both weasels and Murdoch is very dangerous.

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