Cross-posted at PollieGraph.
More tricky semantic quibbling at this stage of the game is a clumsy play from the PM. A really clever politician would have taken a leaf out of former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie’s book, accepted responsibility for interest rates, apologised and vowed to fix it. He could promise to scale back some of the tax cuts at the top end to take inflationary pressure out of the equation and get fiscal policy on the same track as monetary policy. It would be courageous, but not in the Sir Humphrey sense. But all we’re going to see is more and more negative and shrill attacks on Labor, and Howard can’t really bring himself to apologise genuinely partly because of the sort of politician he is, and partly because it would be inconsistent with his new claim that inflation is something entirely out of his control.
Labor also has a bold option – to restrain spending promises over the last two weeks of the campaign, and to give up on the game of “me-too ism”. This would help sheet home the blame to Howard, and a none too subtle reminder about Peter Costello’s comments to Peter Van Onselen and Wayne Errington about Howard’s crazed spendathons and lack of economic competence would do the trick nicely. But, to some degree, they’ve snookered themselves with the tax policy in week one. Still, we’ll see.
The redoubtable Possum Comitatus has some interesting statistical wonkery at his blog on the impact of interest rate rises (and intriguingly, a finding that there’s no correlation between the Coalition’s “economic management” strength and their vote in the polls). It’s very hard to believe that the “other mob would be worse” theme will play well when its basis in the issue of trust which worked wonderfully for the Coalition in 2004 is removed. The more likely question is whether there are further votes to be won on rates by Labor in the short time remaining, or whether the rate rise will firm up existing voting intentions.
But it would be wrong to assume that the rate rise will dominate debate over the two weeks remaining til polling day. The campaign launches await, and Labor will have some big guns to fire on issues such as climate change, education and health. We can expect the ALP to continue to tie the issues on which it leads in with their “supply side” message on the economy, and their hope will be to sharpen the focus on the lack of action in many of these policy domains over the past eleven years.
By now, you’d imagine that those expecting another Tampa would have left the watchtower. There might be a surprise or two in store from the Libs, particularly as their central message has now been knocked off course by the rate rise. The possibility of another Abbott style implosion shouldn’t be discounted either. Desperate people do desperate things.
We will of course be hearing more about those scary union bosses. There will have been some slight gain for the Coalition on the fear factor, but generally, as Trevor Cook observes at Unleashed, Australians have an ambivalent attitude to the union movement. The union scare isn’t sufficiently strong (or cogent) to cut much mustard with those who weren’t inclined to be thinking that way already.
So, on the whole, I think we can perceive fairly clearly the shape of the last portion of the campaign. It’s interesting to note that most of it has been fought on turf of the Coalition’s choosing – the economy – but they’re still trailing badly and lacking momentum. Labor can be expected to highlight its own issues as we head towards the finishing line, but it’s very significant that the Latham misstep of ceding the economic debate entirely has been avoided. Rather, the ALP has fought back on the macro front, while capitalising on the “lived economy” – and letters from lenders in the next couple of weeks are going to re-concentrate minds powerfully on the dissonance between a “strong economy” and individual or family circumstances.
Meanwhile, beneath the surface of the national campaign, Labor are continuing to hammer their own issues in marginal seat campaigning.
Although a lot of us are no doubt suffering from campaign fatigue by now, I have a feeling the next fortnight will be fascinating.