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How Labor can win

A five-point plan for success

2 March 2013

9:00 AM

2 March 2013

9:00 AM

It is clear from most opinion polls that in all likelihood Labor face defeat at the forthcoming federal election. Of crushing proportions. Within Labor circles, the despair is palpable. The Gillard-Rudd death roll drags the party deeper and deeper into swirling, muddy waters from which many will never return.

Yet, ironically, Labor could easily win the next election. Here’s how:

1. Give McTernan the flick. ‘Spin’ is the Party Immune Virus from which all of Labor’s other fatal diseases are born. In the heyday of Bob Carr’s NSW premiership, spin was an art in its infancy, akin to advertising in the 1950s; a shiny, new way of using mass communications to mesmerise the public. As master of the art, Carr had more in common with Don Draper than his illustrious Macquarie Street predecessors, but by the time spin arrived in a major way in Canberra, post-2007, its tricks and prestidigitations had become easier to spot. With the arrival of John McTernan after Gillard’s narrow 2010 victory, the artform became a parody of itself. McTernan cut his teeth under Tony Blair, a practitioner who surpassed even Carr. By the time the irascible Scotsman arrived in Australia, his ilk (and possibly he himself) were already being parodied in the TV sitcom The Thick Of It — although even that show’s Malcolm Tucker might have thought twice about the wisdom of stirring up a race riot on Australia Day. Weirdly, McTernan has allowed himself to become the story, thereby shining unnecessary illumination upon his supposed dark arts. When the Prime Minister’s chief spin doctor gets lampooned on the highest-rating radio station in the battleground seats of western Sydney for inviting the show’s presenter out for a beer, the game is up.

Nowadays, Labor’s ‘talking points’ and daily synchronised soundbites on every- thing from the flailing economy to the evils of Tony Abbott are about as convincing as a 1950s ‘Your wife will be happier with a Hoover’ ad.

In all likelihood, Gillard’s supposedly ‘spontaneous’ misogyny outburst emerged from McTernan’s febrile imagination as part of his self-confessed practice of ‘killing your opponents’. Wayne Swan’s loathsome class warfare twaddle and anti-mining mogul schtick, too.

The sorry truth of the matter is that the harder McTernan tries to find a ‘circuit-breaker’ or to ‘change the narrative’, the lower Labor sink in the polls.

When learning of McTernan’s appointment to Team Julia, veteran union leader and former chairman of the Scottish Labour Party Bob Thomson reportedly said: ‘All I can say is, God help the Australian Labor Party.’ Indeed.

2. Stop doing things — anything! In marketing meetings, strategic planners play a game in which they try to distil the essence of a brand down to one single word. Often, this involves a lengthy process of tearing words and pictures out of magazines, cutting up headlines, choosing relevant song titles and so on and plonking them up on a whiteboard before eliminating them one by one. Eventually, after many hours, one single word emerges. That becomes the brand essence. In the case of Labor, I shall save them the bother. That word is ‘incompetent’. From the horrors of boat people lost at sea to the cumbersome carbon tax, from the fantasies of ‘spreading the boom’ via a nonexistent mining tax to the vanished surplus, from the anti-discrimination proposals to the calling of the election (surely there isn’t an easier task for a PM to get right?), incompetent execution of thought-bubble schemes is the hallmark of pretty much everything this government attempts.

Ironically, apologists for the government cite its workload as justification for its continued existence, excitedly pointing to the unprecedented number of bills it has put through parliament. Sadly, ‘doing something’ is not the same as ‘doing something well’, or even of ‘doing something worthwhile’. Thus, four years on we find Mike Quigley musing aloud about whether there is a better way to implement his $50 billion NBN thingummybob. (Perhaps a detailed cost-benefit analysis around the time of conception mightn’t have been such a bad idea — just saying.) We find taxes that threaten to lose more money than they raise. We find a hurriedly re-thought Gonski and a ream of unfunded, and unfundable, schemes and promises.

The solution is simple. Labor, don’t touch anything between now and September. By all means, turn up to Parliament on the appropriate days and answer the appropriate questions, but don’t actually do anything. That is the only way to prevent further damage being inflicted upon our economy and our way of life, billions being needlessly wasted, promises being made that inevitably will have to be broken and more importantly, will stop you being all over the media day and night for stuffing things up. Indeed, so grateful would the electorate be for a total absence of news for six months about anything whatsoever to do with Swan, Combet, Albanese, Rudd, Shorten, Carr, Garrett, Gillard, Wong and Plibersek that they may actually forget how much they dislike them.

After all, Belgium didn’t have a government for 541 days. The joint was never better run.

3. Don’t change leaders. It’s so tempting, I know. The opinion polls love him. The TV shows adore him. Schoolgirls go all gooey whenever he’s around. But don’t be fooled. We Aussies always root for the underdog. We love a loser, particularly when they were ‘unfairly’ done in. Ned Kelly, Gallipoli, Phar Lap. But we only love them so long as they are the underdog. Imagine if, despite the dastardly Poms stitching us up, we’d actually won at Lone Pine? Or if Phar Lap, having recovered from his mafia poisoning, ended up his days coming third-last at Flemington? Or if Ned Kelly rode off into the sunset?

Bring back Kevin and the public will go off him faster than you can say ‘fair suck of the sav’. Or ‘programmatic specificity’, if you’re that way inclined.

4. Ditch the unions. Latham’s one good idea. Need a reason to? That embrace with Paul Howes. Kiss of death if ever there was one.

5. Carry on with your one successful policy — stopping the boats. The way things are going, with our borders now wide open to every Tom, Dick and Hari who feels like wandering in and taking up residence wherever he fancies (dormitories adjacent to single female dorms are proving particularly popular), Sydney’s western suburbs will soon be chockers with legal illegal immigrants. All of whom will vote for you!

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