A few days ago I wrote about the problem that the left had with “framing”. In the light of Bill Shorten’s terrible, terrible mistake, I thought it was perhaps instructive to just consider how Bill is being framed by the media.
Now, just to clarify, by “framed” I don’t mean that he’s being set up to be convicted for a crime he didn’t commit; I’m talking about how we’re being asked to view the whole thing.
Let’s start with what he actually did. He answered a direct question with a direct answer. Unfortunately, the answer he gave wasn’t a Labor policy that had gone through caucus or the shadow cabinet. So far, so bad. Then, on Friday, he turned around and announced that he was wrong. It wasn’t Labor policy and wouldn’t be Labor policy.
Politically, I think it would be fair to say that this was not Bill Shorten’s shining moment. And we can go down the path that the media is framing for us and talk about his leadership, his lack of charisma, the fact that Turnbull is still prefered PM, Bill’s bad breath, the fact that Albanese made a speech where he said that Labor would work with business… Why, I could even tell you that someone in the Labor party – who I haven’t named – has expressed unspeciified doubts about Shorten as a leader.
There’s just a few things wrong with this, however. While I’m sure some of you will happily use this to trash Shorten, I come to neither to bury Bill nor to praise him.
The first point I’d like to make is one I’ve made many, many times before: The incumbent usually has a healthy lead over the challenger in any opinion poll when it comes to prefered PM or prefered Premier. It’s the long term two party prefered trend of polls that really matters. More accurate is the betting markets. Shorten – or Albanese or the drover’s dog – won’t really matter when it comes to election day. Sure, it would be great if there was a Hawke – who was a well-known, popular Opposition Leader for the few weeks before the 1983 election – to lead. However, I can’t think of anybody in the current party who’s a current day Hawke.
The second point is one that seems to be being ignored in the discussions about Shorten’s future is Kevin Rudd. What’s he got to do with anything?
Well, for those of you with short memories, way back in 2013, when Rudd took over the leadership, he introduced what I’d call the “No More Ides Of March” rules. And when he lost the election, Labor had to choose a new leader. While once they could have played spin the bottle and just picked the person it landed on, now there needs to be a ballot of members, as well as a vote by the parliamentary party. You may remember that after a process lasting several weeks, while Bowen was temporarily leader, Albo won the popular vote, but Shorten won the latter, and according to some complicated algorithm, which put all the votes together, Shorten was declared Leader of the Opposition.
I bring this up because with less than a year to go before the next election, any move to replace Shorten would have to be agreed to by Bill himself, or else there’d need to be a period with a caretaker leader while the whole mess was sorted out. In what world do you imagine, Turnbull not calling an election during this time? I mean, they called the by-elections on the day of the Labor conference. I know, I know. That was just a coincidence. Would Labor really take such a risk?
But let’s just forget all the technicalities here. Let’s just look at what happened last week in the cold, harsh light of political apathy.
Just stop for one moment and ask yourself. How much do you care about the tax rate for the companies affected? I mean, did you even know what their tax rate was before last week? Was it something you discussed at your last barbecue? Did you hear anything like the following conversation during the week?
“I was going to vote Labor until last week. I mean, the reversal of the tax cuts for businesses turning over between $10 million and $50 million was a deal breaker for me.”
“Yeah, I was pretty upset about the cuts to my penalty rates, but the poor boss isn’t going to get the full benefit of that if Labor gets in. It hardly makes my sacrifice worth it!”
“That’s right. They just hate aspiration. I’m not going to do 36 hours overtime a day so I can earn enough to benefit from the tax cuts to higher income earners.”
“It’s not just that it’s their whole class war, politics of envy thing. As Malcolm said, Labor want to keep the workers in their place, whereas the Liberals want them to…”
“Yeah? Finish your sentence.”
“Um, I think that Malcolm was making the point that we should aspire to be like him where we donate all our wages to a foundation which helps us to minimise our tax, but when I think back, he didn’t really make it clear!”
All in all, whatever happens, I’m intrigued to see how the media will manage to keep this one front and centre, after next week when Abbott will contradict government policy directly, Turnbull or Morrison will praise One Nation and a minister will make a mistake that dwarfs anything Shorten has ever done.
Ok, I mightn’t know the future, but you’d be brave suggesting that won’t happen!