Ok, before I talk about Moneyball, I’d like you to do a little survey. Would you prefer:
- To have your face slapped
- To have some unspecified torture performed with a red hot poker.
We’ll get back to the survey later, but before I do, I’d like to talk about “Moneyball”, which was a book about a baseball coach, Billy Beane, as well as a film. Without going into all the differences between the book and the film, the book was a lot better at emphasising the difference between Beane’s approach and the conventional wisdom of the scouts. While the scouts looked at recruits and judged them on whether the recruit had what they considered the necessary attributes such as athletic ability and good techique, Beane prefered to actually look at their record. For Beane, a short fat guy who demonstrated a good batting average in the professional leagues was a better bet than some college player who’d yet to show any real ability. And yet, the less athletic choice with the proven record was cheaper. In terms of the AFL, it’d be like deciding to take a player who’d averaged twenty possessions in the actual league, instead of the number one draft pick.
Beane used statistics and made some bold choices. Naturally he was successful. I say, naturally, because people generally don’t write books about failures. I haven’t heard too many people suggesting that a book about Fremantle’s AFL coaches would be a great read.
Anyway, applying the “Moneyball” principle to politics is a rather interesting exercise. While the Canberra Press Gallery are arguing that, of course, they had to report about the possibility that Shorten would be challenged because he’s so unpopular compared to Turnbull, the simple fact remains, his batting average is actually a lot better the Mal the Magnificent.
Let’s take a step back and look at the respective records. Turnbull takes over leadership from Tony Abbott. He gets a bounce in the polls. He goes to an election a few months later in July 2016. Shorten, it’s generally thought, runs a better campaign. Malcolm loses seats. From memory, the only seat the Liberals won off Labor was Chisholm, where popular sitting member, Anna Burke didn’t stand. Shorten, on the other hand, won several seats off the Liberals.
From there, we have the countdown to the loss of thirty Newspolls in a row. When that happens, the narrative suddenly changes. It’s not the opinion polls that matter. It’s who’s preferred leader. That’s the thing. Malcolm is so much more popular than Bill. The public haven’t warmed to Bill. Various Murdoch news outlets start to tell us that Albanese would be a shoe-in, and with Super Saturday looming, it’ll be Shorten’s fault when Labor lose Longman…
Of course, some of you may prefer Albo. That’s not the issue. I’m just commenting on the determination of the press to raise leadership speculation based on the fact that Anthony made a speech where he said something that could have been interpreted as slightly different from the alleged Shorten class warfare. And then he didn’t make it clear when he was asked if he’d promise not to challenge, because he said that he was looking forward to being a Minister in a Shorten government. Strangely, nobody seems to be asking Dutton to rule out a challenge…
Interestingly, when Labor manage to win, it’s not important, we’re told. Government’s never win by-elections, and this was never about the leadership even though Malcolm said that it was. Well, no he wasn’t lying. It was about Shorten’s leadership and if you voted for the Liberals it was a slap in the face to Shorten, but voting against them is just what you people do in by-elections. As Alexander Downer said, “Must be new arrivals.”
Speaking of slaps to the face, I’m guessing that some of you may picked option one in the survey for the simple reason that you didn’t like the sound of the red hot poker and you had never heard of “boonja”. That’s the way it is with prefered Prime Minister. A lot of people choose the incumbent because they don’t like the alternative, while others do it because they’re unfamiliar with the other option. Even when Howard was winning as prefered leader, it never meant that he was “popular”. After all, there’s a difference between being perceived as competent and being popular. I mean, I may have an accountant who’s very good at their job but that doesn’t mean I want to have dinner with them. (Sorry to all the accounants reading this, I’m sure that you’re very interesting and please feel free to invite me over just to dazzle me with your many other interests! My point is theoretical and not refering to any accountants I’ve actually met at parties, book launches or rock concerts… Come to think of it, I’ve never met any accountants)
Perhaps we need to stop talking about Malcolm’s “popularity” and just like Ben Beane, look at the actual statistics. As leader, has Turnbull actually succeeded in winning a seat from a sitting Labor MP?
Now that would be a slap in the face…