THIS COLUMN has — over the past five years — made little reference to conservative Murdoch press columnist Andrew Bolt; partly because other opinions are often preferred and partly because Bolt is too right-wing at times for us to stomach, little comment has been passed here on the issues he champions. Today, however, he has published the “ten steps” for Malcolm Turnbull to turn his fortunes around, and some perspective is warranted.
Novel, isn’t it: and despite the crazed taunts of some detractors, I can only think of having based a piece on an Andrew Bolt column a few times, and would have to actually go looking for the resulting articles to ascertain exactly what they covered.
But Bolt — an even more strident critic of Malcolm Turnbull than I am, although his perspective on the Prime Minister is fairly close to the mark — has made some comment this morning, in a piece being carried by all of the state-based Murdoch news portals, ostensibly canvassing the differences between Turnbull and opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, and the “ten steps” Turnbull can take to save himself from “humiliating defeat.”
Being on the run and in Brisbane for the day today, Bolt’s article offers an opportunity to publish a relatively concise piece of my own; he asks the question of whether “someone so left wing” should lead the Liberal Party at all — on account of the lack of advocacy it saddles conservatives with — and whether there’s any real distinction between a government led by Turnbull and one formed by Shorten if the Liberals lose this year’s election.
One difference between myself and a lot of conservative Liberals — whether in the Liberal Party, elsewhere in the commentariat, or in the community at large — is that I don’t think any useful purpose is served by losing this year’s election (although it could happen, for Turnbull seems to be making an excellent fist of turning people off).
These would be what Miranda Devine calls the “Del-Cons” — delusional conservatives, pissed that Tony Abbott was overthrown, and by Malcolm in particular — who think three years of ALP mismanagement and economic pillaging is preferable to giving Turnbull three more years to strut the national stage as a reward for his act of bastardry.
Needless to say, I am not one of those. But the possibility Turnbull could lose an election is a different matter.
The “one term in opposition” some seem to think is an acceptable price to pay to kill Turnbull off is nothing of the sort: one term could easily become two, three, or God knows how many — it is not for nothing that no first-term government has lost office in 85 years, although Julia Gillard gave it a shake — and with a look around the Liberal Party’s prospective leadership stocks, the kindest thing one could say is that the best candidates (with Josh Frydenberg’s name near the top of any hypothetical list) need at least another term or two on training wheels before they are even credible propositions.
And even if more vocal conservative opponents of Turnbull were persuaded to back off, there is no guarantee he won’t lose anyway; left-wing or just a misjudged moderate version of the rest of us on the Right, policy isn’t even the problem right now: the turgid, clay-footed political touch of the Abbott government seems alive and well when it comes to the Turnbull regime, and as we have discussed at length — as recently as Tuesday — there is ample evidence voters increasingly do not like what they see.
Even so, the “ten steps” Bolt outlines are actually sound, and today I’m simply going to make a couple of additional points and observations on each. If you didn’t read it at the outset, here’s the Bolt article once again. Here we go.
1. Attack Labor
This is a no-brainer that seems to have been lost in the general confusion that goes with a lack of obvious direction.
The fact is that Labor’s record in office has never been fully exploited by the Coalition — the debt, the waste, the domination by unions, the budget boobytraps still waiting to explode — and another Labor government now could well bankrupt country.
There is, to put it indelicately, a rich seam of shit to mine here. Turnbull should be leading, e’er gently, from the front.
2. Stop Talking About Raising Taxes
I agree to a point: the GST represented a missed opportunity to advocate for genuine structural tax reform that if properly designed would have made no overall difference to the vast majority of people. In fact, many would have been better off.
So much for reform.
But in the main, Labor is the party of new and increased taxes — in fact, Bill Shorten is promising little else — and the blowtorch should be directed there rather than letting him off the hook with half-arsed schemes for state income taxes and other nonsense.
3. Attack Labor’s Carbon Tax
Just like Groundhog Day, another federal election (the fourth in a row) stands to feature a fight over carbon pricing.
Unlike Julia Gillard in 2010, Shorten is quite open about his intention to reintroduce carbon pricing if he wins; unlike Gillard, he promises not one carbon tax but two, in a pathetic attempt to pander to the Greens, with one pricing regime for the electricity industry and one for the rest of the economy.
Power prices for ordinary folk and small businesses will rocket, irrespective of anything Shorten and his mates insist.
This is a big chance for Turnbull to show a little fidelity with the Liberals’ conservative flank, and is well justified by science accepted on all sides that shows no warming has occurred in nearly 20 years.
4. Be Focused
As Bolt intimates, the message of the government has changed with monotonous frequency: from various tax reforms (all quickly abandoned) to a hit-the-unions narrative (that I don’t disagree with at all) to “historic” reforms lasting two days, the Coalition under Turnbull is all over the shop.
Multiple messages and themes are fine to enable the election to be fought on multiple fronts, but it would be a smart thing to do to work out what those themes are — and hammer them.
5. Cuddle Up To Conservatives
It’s a no-brainer, this one, when nearly two-thirds of the Liberal rank and file are conservatives, and when so many conservative commentators are prepared to try to help Turnbull to succeed.
Instead, he has seemingly been happy to send “head office” delegates into preselections in conservative areas to overturn local votes in favour of moderate candidates — a clear “fuck you” to the Liberal Right if ever there was — and has mostly steered clear of the conservative commentariat altogether.
It isn’t rocket science, but Malcolm is going to need all the friends he can get; his penchant for acting as a one-man band went a long way to costing him the Liberal leadership in 2009, and its consequences are currently being writ large in the Coalition’s falling poll numbers.
And a thought that should be sobering is that if people want a government that pursues trendy, pinko, finger-in-the-wind socialism, they will vote for the Greens and Labor. Any doubt about this should be dispelled with a glance at recent opinion polls.
6. Stop The Waffle, Develop Slogans With Content
Endless blather to overfill a soundbite achieves nothing, and nor does running through the arcane lodes of your vocabulary to demonstrate to the masses how clever you are.
Everyone knows Malcolm is clever. The pains he goes to in making sure nobody forgets from one minute to another is a big part of his problem.
Muzzling his similarly inclined cohort and mouthpiece, George Brandis, wouldn’t hurt either: the Attorney-General might be a smart bloke but he is a public relations disaster. Waxing lyrical before the masses on the finer points of nothing they give a shit about isn’t the way for him to win friends.
Tony Abbott took the three word slogan template to a silly extreme but nobody denies it worked. Perhaps Messrs Turnbull, Brandis and Co need a little help in punchy dialogues without verbal sludge. My door is open.
7. Be Authentic. Get Serious
Vacuous stunts are Labor’s forte, so gimmicks like having Turnbull walk to a car with Scott Morrison to show “solidarity” are cretinous.
And as Bolt says, going to meet the punters at the pub doesn’t work unless you are prepared to get on their level and at least appear as if you genuinely care what they tell you.
Either Malcolm and his mates want another term in office or they don’t. If they don’t, they can bugger off now but if they do, it’s past time to begin to look as if they want to win.
8. Play For The Team
Whoever had the brilliant idea to marginalise Treasurer Scott Morrison doesn’t deserve to remain employed: after the disaster of Joe Hockey and in light of the Prime Minister/Treasurer axis being the most important relationship in any government, attempting to hang Morrison out in the wind ahead of a critical federal budget was reprehensible.
Just get over yourself, Malcolm, for like it or not, you actually need your colleagues more than they need you.
9. Get Over Abbott
This includes humiliating known conservatives; trying to knock off Abbott supporters at preselections using “Prime Ministerial imprimatur” vested in head office goons sent to rig votes; and denying the bleeding obvious when a conservative policy response (Brussels, for example) is warranted. Doing so only invites Abbott to interject.
Just ignore him. His contribution will either yield ideas that can be poached and used, or be publicly seen as defective. Either way, engaging in comment and games will end in tears. Malcolm is supposed to be Prime Minister now — and should behave accordingly.
10. Don’t Panic
Possibly the best advice of all — the flurry of activity invariably ending in backdowns, U-turns and abandoned plans not only makes the government look silly, but it reeks of panic.
There is an argument that says that after seven months as Prime Minister Turnbull should have a comprehensive slate of election policies ready to go.
If he doesn’t, speed is now of the essence. But showing your hand when it remains half empty is not the way to go.
As for ignoring Twitter’s “steaming mound,” I have long thought that the Coalition’s social media strategy is, in a word, SHITHOUSE, if it even exists at all.
To properly play in the 21st century, something has to be done about this, but merely playing on the terms and turf staked out by the Left simply won’t cut it.
Again, my door is open…
And that’s it: just a few brief thoughts on each of the 10 Bolt points.
I will be back with something a little more orthodox tomorrow.