August 31, 2004 | Graham

Howard winning campaign so far.

We’ll be running a dedicated campaign blog later in the election, but for now I’m going to be doing more than my quota of posts on this blog. Election coverage requires you to do a bit more than the occasional “thought piece”, which is what this blog is primarily designed for.
One of the things election coverage demands is blow by blow commentary on who is getting the upper-hand, and this is my first piece of that type.
On my analysis Mark Latham is having a very ordinary election so far. He was flat-footed in his response to the Prime Minister’s announcement of the election. On the other hand Howard was upbeat and produced his “truth/trust” play on words and contexts. Some comment suggests that Howard had gone for the “trust” line on the spur of the moment. I find that hard to believe. My suspicion is that the Government has had a campaign ready to go, but has not wanted to show its hand before the election period. Howard is such an instinctively conservative person that it is impossible to see him just winging it on a major campaign theme.
In his response Latham just trotted out the Ladder of Opportunity again. As an image it is fine, but it is going to need some substance behind it if it is going to take him over the walls of The Lodge. Mark has had months to prepare for this moment, and, to use an Olympic metaphor, it looked like he was still in heavy training and hadn’t tapered properly for the event.
Watching Latham I was also fascinated by his look. While he is pitching himself as the agent of generational change, he actually has an old-fashioned Labor look about him. I’m not sure whether it is his unruly cowlick or the cut of his suits, or maybe the way he walks, but it has a mid-twentieth century feel to it. Perhaps it is a case of taking the boy out of Green Valley, but not taking Green Valley out of the boy. That, coupled with his recent health scares, and Howard’s power walking prowess perhaps open the way to Howard to use another “pivot word”, taking “age” and turning it into “fitness”.
The first day of any campaign is the day when you state your case to be re-elected. The second day is when you start to develop it and start to probe your opponent’s case to expose its weaknesses. It is rare for either side to make any big gaffes this early in a campaign, but both did.
On the Liberal side it was Peter Costello’s initial failure to rule out challenging for the leadership. It illustrates why Costello does not have widespread support inside the Liberal Party. He has shown himself to be self-indulgent and ill-disciplined on crucial issues. Howard must have been ropeable. It is not as though most voters are likely to be too worried about who is going to replace Howard, but a niggling issue like this has the potential to create media static which drowns out the message that he wanted to drill home that day.
Fortunately for Howard, Latham made an even greater gaffe. He denied Labor had a plan to introduce a payroll tax, and then compounded the gaffe by trying to distinguish the plan, which has been Labor policy for two years, from a tax by saying it was a levy, and then being unable to explain what the difference is. For the record, while lawyers may make some distinction between “levy” and “tax” in a general sense economists don’t, and neither does common english usage. Labor hard-heads might care to check this entry in The synonymns that it lists from Roget’s Thesaurus for “levy” are “burden, collection, custom, duty, exaction, excise, fee, gathering, imposition, impost, muster, tariff, tax, toll”.
It is one thing to go after your opponent as a liar and evasive, another to prove to be so yourself. This election is not likely to be directly determined on the Children Overboard issue, but it is likely to be determined by threats to the household budget, so in the evasion stakes, Latham is in trouble, because he has fudged about something electors care about. Of course most voters won’t have noticed the mistake because they haven’t noticed that there is an election on, but you can rely on the Liberal Party to use the issue in advertising or direct mail.
Latham should have immediately confessed to having been confused by the question and owned up that Labor did indeed propose the equivalent of a payroll tax. He could then have been effective in stressing that at .1% of payrolls in companies with more than 20 employees it is not a signficant cost and by providing a fund to ensure that employees of companies that go bankrupt are not robbed of their wages represents a clear benefit to employed Australians. Instead he just undercut one of his main campaign themes of “truth”.
Latham and Howard appear to both have a similarly stubborn streak which leads them to refuse to admit that they are wrong. It is the effort to prove they are right that leads to the evasions. This is a very human reflex, but the fact that it is common to both leaders reveals the Labor tactic of running a substantial part of their campaign on the issue of truth is flawed.

Posted by Graham at 6:07 am | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham,
    This is very deep analysis on only two days of campaigning. Even big time boxing commentators don’t go to this depth calling the first few rounds of a fight – but I appreciate the excitement in your voice. Seconds out!

    Comment by Victor Hart — August 31, 2004 @ 3:59 pm

  2. Great article Graham – well done!!!

    Comment by Julie King — August 31, 2004 @ 4:13 pm

  3. Thanks Julie and Victor. Got a private email from a friend suggesting I’ll be lucky to keep going for the whole 6 weeks. She might be right, although it’s amazing what you can do early in the morning!

    Comment by Graham Young — August 31, 2004 @ 4:56 pm

  4. Another good article from the editor.
    Well, Howard might have been very clever with the way he managed to manoeuvre the trust thing, but it still doesn’t change the fact that his Administration fibbed about some people who were in great distress.
    As an unbiased regular punter, I would say that that alone should be reason enough to kick them to the gutter.
    As for the comments about it being a “…case of taking the boy out of Green Valley, but not taking Green Valley out of the boy”, I find that a tad classist, Graham.
    I am totally shocked (hyperbole intended for added impact) you would say something like that.
    People are not just a product of their background and don’t possess certain qualities because of it.

    Comment by Darlene — September 1, 2004 @ 6:16 pm

  5. Dear Darlene, speaking as an East Brisbane boy who went to primary school in his bare feet, you can make all the classist accusations you like, but I know the truth that background does matter. 😉

    Comment by Graham Young — September 1, 2004 @ 8:40 pm

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