April 23, 2013 | Graham

A powerful argument for dumping federal Labor

Could there be good reasons for rusted on Labor voters to change their vote to Liberal this election? And if there are, what does it say for the likely poll result, and the responses currently being garnered by pollsters?

Former Queensland Council of Unions President Dave Harris is quoted in today’s Courier Mail which says:

The former union boss said Labor needed to restrict the power of factions if it was to appeal to more voters, but warned this was only likely to happen if the party was wiped out at the federal election.

“For change to happen, there has got to be a cataclysmic act like the severe flogging they received in Queensland,” he told The Courier-Mail.

“The Labor Party will not be a party that attracts a broader group of people while the control mechanisms are in the hands of so few people and the power blocs aren’t challenged.

“Frankly, reality says that the trade unions cannot continue to have the influence in a broader-based party that they have enjoyed for the last hundred years.”

If there are many others out there who feel just like Harris, then it will be a potent weapon for Abbott as the election nears, turning an act of reluctant “disloyalty” to an organisation that people have treasured, into a measured and moral act of chastisement.

It means that swings will likely be larger than are currently captured in the polling data, but that the election win by the Liberals will be one that could (assuming Labor learns its lessons quickly) be relatively quickly reverse. It would give Abbott a huge majority, but one he needs to be circumspect in wielding, as it will be partially driven not by support for him, but support for “labor” or genuine “Labor values”.

Again from the Courier:

He mocked Ms Gillard’s repeated use of the phrase “Labor values”, saying this just alienated voters.

“I am horrified by the crass politics. There are no Labor values in the stuff that’s going on.”

It may also bode well for Bob Katter. His values are probably closest to what Harris calls “Labor”.

Posted by Graham at 11:15 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

April 20, 2013 | Ronda Jambe

Bombs of our Fathers

As I write this, the second suspect has been taken into custody. Obama says they will learn why. Not that any explanation can possibly make sense or be forgiven. If intolerance of murder and mayhem makes ME a barbarian, then someone has their sense of irony tangled up in the knot of blind justice.

The second face, so young, is beyond comprehension as a brutal bomber.

How far back do these young men’s grudges go? What sequence of  personal, historical or national events can lead to a conclusion that killing more innocents is the way forward in another country, especially one that is so bountiful and generous as the United States?

None of the many gripes I have with the US change the fact that it is generally a good, open safe, comfortable place to live. Particularly when you consider most other places, such as the birthland of these young terrorists. Migrants go to countries like Australia and the US because there are opportunities, and, cliche though it may be, great freedom.

We join Americans today with relief and pride for the brilliant way in which the situation in Boston has been resolved.The involvement of the public to provide information and the use of electronic media also affirmed positive values.

Sadly, a policeman lost his life and another was wounded as the drama unfolded. We share their grief for the dead and wish the very best recovery for the survivors. That is a normal human response, the opposite end of the human spectrum from wilfully hurting strangers.

It is normal also to feel more strongly about people more similar to ourselves: we like marathons, the party atmosphere, the sense of shared interest and support. The Bostonians don’t come from a dark, lawless place.

Of all the achievements of modern democracies, widespread public safety (within limits) is surely one of the proudest.

Chechna and its neighbor Russia have a long, sad, violent history. The rule of law is weak, corruption and state violence is widespread, normalised.

Surely the only rational position for any individual or group or religion is to oppose violence in any and all forms. And for all leaders of any kind to reiterate that message loudly and endlessly.

If I were ever inclined to join a religion, total renunciation of violence would have to be a key tenet of their catechism.  Surely that message is more important than telling people they have to spin around, bow down, eat prettily or wear silly hats. How unthinkingly I used to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ in Sunday school. I’m reading about the repression of the Counter-Reformation and its Inquisition in a book about Caravaggio – a violent man in a violent time. How do Buddhists reconcile their creed with their actions when they take up arms in Myanmar?

Next week we will have Anzac Day, a good time to reflect on this whole horrible week. It is also when I feel an annual flare of anger against those who drew so many young men into war and death. Who can look at the handsome portraits from the last century in the War Memorial without crying?

And does Australia make and export equipment for political killing? Shouldn’t we be backing away from such industries?

Carl von Clausewitz said war is politics by other means. Consider: could a different Iraq have unfolded, if instead of troops a fraction of the expense had gone to undermining Hussein’s regime and supporting civil society instead? Even cyber warfare would be better – the electronic equivalent of pamphlet blanketing perhaps?




Posted by Ronda Jambe at 5:34 pm | Comments (19) |
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April 14, 2013 | Graham

What are the chances of Julia winning in September?

The chances of Julia Gillard winning in September are probably about 15% – better than many of use would think. That is if results in Australian elections are in any way similar to US elections.

I’ve taken my odds from a table in The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver where he gives the probabilities of a senate candidate winning based on size of lead in polling average. While I don’t think the odds would be exactly the same, I don’t think they’d be all that dissimilar either.

So here is the table.

Size of lead
Time until election 1 Point 5 Points 10 Points 20 Points
One day 64% 95% 99.7% 99.999%
One week 60% 89% 98% 99.97%
One month 57% 81% 95% 99.7%
Three months 55% 72% 87% 98%
Six months 53% 66% 79% 93%
One year 52% 59% 67% 81%

There are reasons to think that there could be a difference, for example that voting is voluntary in the US, but hard to hypothesise why it would be that significant in terms of the result.

It’s true that US polling can be more volatile than our own, but that would tend to suggest that the 20 point or so two-party preferred lead that the federal Liberals enjoyed in the last Newspoll is even more significant.

When I think of Australian elections I can’t think of a government that has lost, or an opposition that hasn’t won, when it was ahead by 20 points at this stage, nor a state government or state opposition. But we don’t have a lot of elections here, so US statistics will probably capture the low probabilities inherent in very extreme situations better than trying to do the exercise on our figures.

Can anyone else think of a situation where an Australian state or federal government has been ahead by 12 to 20 points six months out in the polls and failed to win the ensuing election?

Posted by Graham at 10:46 pm | Comments (6) |
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April 09, 2013 | Graham

I was wrong about Thatcher

When I was in my early 20s I disapproved of most things that Margaret Thatcher did. Now I approve. What has changed?

Well, apart from a huge increase in experience on my part, what she did proved its worth. She took the UK from being an economic and social basket case and made it “great” again, in more ways than one.

Grantham, where she was born, has had two famous children – Thatcher and Isaac Newton. Thatcher’s exploits in politics may not eclipse  in importance Newton’s in physics, mathematics and monetary policy, but they are certainly in the same neighbourhood.

That Britain could have become ungreat in such a short time, and that her decline was so quickly reversed is a lesson for all, particularly today’s political class.

Thatcher was Britain’s first woman prime minister (although they’d trialled female monarchs with outstanding success some years before) and towers in stark contrast to Australia’s first woman prime minister.

Gillard and her government stand for almost everything that Thatcher opposed. If they were to survive Australia would continue down the very same path that the UK did before Thatcher.

The problem with that for Australians is that the Margaret Thatchers of the world, and the circumstances which allow them to occur, are statistical outliers. It’s much more common to end up like Greece, Spain or France, than the UK.

That’s because electors like to take the soft option and generally aren’t up for the tough love that can make a country number one.

I’ve always thought it unfair that the one quote that Margaret Thatcher is known for is “There is no such thing as society”. It’s derided as being support for a dog eats dog world when what she was really saying is that society is the collective actions of individuals and that we have a responsibility to give as well as opportunities to take.

Here is the whole quote. In its entirety it could fairly be her epitaph.

They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.

Posted by Graham at 8:34 am | Comments (12) |
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