Wednesday 29 November 2016
Kaye Lee yesterday made some comments on my post. Astute as always she poses some very important questions about the importance of leadership and how important it is in the scheme of things. However, she also more broadly highlighted the importance of opposition and its limitations.
”What baffles me is that the PM is still seen as the best person for PM! Any thoughts on this?”
”I don’t think it has anything to do with policy or performance – in fact I am sure it doesn’t. I think partly it is due to the very superficial look thing – he looks and sounds more like a PM – or he used to. Nowadays he vacillates between deer in the headlights vacuous smiling as he tells us how happy he is, and attempting to do Abbott attack dog unconvincingly.”
”But I also think it is the baggage that Bill brings to the job. There is that nagging doubt that all the leadership machinations were stepping-stones. There is also doubt from his union time where he undoubtedly did good things for workers but also seemed to already be on his self-promotion path.”
”Bill does well when in the right setting. His solo performance on Q&A comes to mind and they say his town hall meetings went well too. He is much better unscripted, without the rehearsed pauses and practiced eye contact and expressions.”
Allow me to make some observations. Yes it is rather odd that Malcolm is still the preferred Prime Minister given his Government’s abysmal performance. Does it tell us, taking into account the polls of this week, that the electorate whilst on the one hand are upset with his performance, on the other they dearly want a man of his style to succeed? They are voting for a perceived image rather than the man himself. On the other hand is it a reflection on Bill Shorten. You might say that he doesn’t have Turnbulls Manor of the Lodge personality. Kaye maybe right that people still have reservations about him. Or perhaps, given this Governments performance, a drover’s dog could win the next election.
Certainly Turnbull is unconvincing when it is obvious he is lying or trying to sell something he really doesn’t believe in. Even more so when he is playing bad cop politics. He cannot do nasty like a Dutton, Abbott, Pyne or Morrison. He just looks insincere, out-of-place.
Now about opposition and Bill Shorten.
Leading your Party in Opposition must surely be a job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s a thankless, powerless, task that has few positives but comes with enormous expectations from those who follow you.
Releasing policy is considered precarious until the election campaign begins. The media, a biased one at that, focuses on the incumbent and often a 10 second grab on the nightly news is about all one can expect. Often you are dammed if you support something with bi-partisan intent or dammed if you don’t. Your followers have a ‘’why doesn’t he stick it up em’’ mentality that is laced with an unrealistic desire to win every argument along the way.
And in their urgent desire to obtain office, or at least be seen to be on top of one’s opponent, they don’t take into account the re thinking of policy necessary to win back government, and the work involved in doing so. And in today’s political environment I might add the task is enormous.
Abbott made the mistake of not formulating policy (Turnbull the same) in opposition and are still paying for it.
In fact when and if they get their ABCC legislation through politicians will return to Canberra next year with nothing to talk about.
As Kaye said ”Bill does well when in the right setting.”
I have no doubt that in political terms Shorten out campaigned Turnbull in the last election and almost won.
I also think it true that Shorten in terms of public image doesn’t scrub up and that not only relates to appearance. He sometimes looks like he’s had a late night at the local. He does do well when he is fired up. He is also suspect on trust.
It is all made the more difficult when your own ability is limited by your personal capacity to deliver succinct messages because people have an expectation that you should have the presentation skills of a Barak Obama or Bill Clinton.
Shorten has none of their eloquence, instead shows a distinct inarticulateness that is at times depressive. Often he comes over as just another apparatchik or Union boss. As a communicator he lacks charisma and personality. So opposition leaders tend to come over as unconstructive, having nothing good to say, or just carpers.
Having said that, Australia has not been blessed with charismatic leaders with a passion that excites and inspires. Howard, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and now Turnbull have been dour, if not intelligent, individuals who would hardly enthuse one to alight from bed each morning, let alone be excited by ideas emanating from enlightened and sagacious minds.
We had great expectations of Turnbull but he was all show and no pony. You would have to go back to the period of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating to experience the exhilaration that might come about with an enthusiasm for what might be possible through the political process.
Brendan Nelson, Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, Simon Crean, John Hewson and Andrew Peacock, Alexander Downer all suffered from the helplessness of opposition and failed as leaders despite their aptitude.
My personal view, as an aside, is that Kim Beasley would have made a fine Prime Minister had he obtained office. And he nearly did.
Last year I wrote a few pieces about how I thought Bill Shorten should approach an election year. They got many responses but this one from Kaye typifies people’s expectations.
”I don’t want an election campaign mode. I want that marketing bullshit to stop. I want a frank and open discussion with the Australian people. I want us to decide what sort of society we want and then talk about how we can achieve it. That can’t be done in a two-week campaign.”
As it turned out we had a long one. Shorten was the policy wanker I thought he was and released them prior and during the election. Leadership is somewhat a personal judgement thing. Sometimes I read people’s ideas on who should be leader and I’m flabbergasted at their suggestion.
How do we perceive a person’s image? We think about how they present rather than what they do. Kaye is absolutely right when she says ”we need to decide what sort of society we want and then talk about how we can achieve it”.
Given current world and national events I don’t think there has been a more opportune time to do so. Change is necessary. We have the opportunity to mould it and shape it for the common good. We need a leader who can turn the Australian Political scene upside down and I don’t believe in this instance you need a charismatic figure. We just need a person who can layout the ground work for change in words that would make the hairs on your arms tingle. It’s in the substance, the words and how you use them that matters. If we don’t we could experience change as a phenomenon of its own making. With Its own tragic inevitability.
My thought for the day
”The secret of change is to focus all your energy on not fighting the old but on building the new”.
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