Sorry, so sorry (but not apologising)

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.

Posted in elections
20 comments on “Sorry, so sorry (but not apologising)
  1. mick says:

    Good points Mark. I was thinking today as to whether the news cycle will move on from the interest rates thing and I think that it will.

    Labor still has its big guns to play. It’ll be interested to see if they do restrain the spending in the coming weeks, I think it would be a great political play. On the other hand it will be hard to make big policy announcements without throwing down some case, especially in the area of education.

  2. anthony says:

    “More tricky semantic quibbling at this stage of the game is a clumsy play from the PM.”

    It’s pathological isn’t it? It’s like someone giving you a box of quality streets and then telling you they nicked the Hazelnut Crunches.

  3. Beppie says:

    Now that Howard recognises that saying sorry does not always equate to direct personal responsibility for an event, maybe he can say it to the indigenous people of this country?

    (Haha, yeah right).

  4. Enemy Combatant says:

    Excellent summary, Mark.

    “Although a lot of us are no doubt suffering from campaign fatigue by now, I have a feeling the next fortnight will be fascinating.”
    Old war-horses have nostrils aflare
    The whiff of buckshot’s in the air.

  5. mbahnisch says:

    EC – Heh!

  6. Katz says:

    As an inveterately clever politician, Mr Howard knows that “sorry” can mean different things.

    “I’m Sorry” can mean “I apologise.”

    “I’m sorry” can mean “I offer my condolences.”

    And indeed, the latter is Mr Howard’s meaning. He’s offering condolences to the death of aspirational dreams snuffed out by rising interest rates in marginal electorates across this great nation of ours.

    But that’s not all being snuffed out. Mr Howard’s mind has been much concentrated upon thoughts of death of late as he imsgines the Grim Reaper poised to scythe down his administration and his prominent place in history books yet to be written.

    When you see on the evening news Mr Howard donning the daggy trakkie for his next pedestrian photo op, remember you are watching the final footsteps of Dead Man Walking.

  7. Su says:

    I heard Margo Kingston being interviewed and she said that when Howard refused to apologise to those accused of throwing their children overboard she realised that he had conflated his personal interest with that of the party; that whatever rhetorical move he thought salvaged his personal image must by extension be good for the party. That seemed to be about right to me.

  8. Paul Burns says:

    Not good for Howard to play wordganes with his “sorry” over interest rates. It reminds the voter how often JWH has used weasel words in the past, reinforces his lack of an apology to the stolen generation, which, idealistic though I may be, I think the majority of Australians want. The man’s monstrous ego is really getting in the way. I’m waiting for the creash. Oh, boy, am I waiting for the crash. Next pension day I’m buying a bottle of champers to be opened on election night as Howard walks to the dias, or is carried there, to concede defeat. Assuming the Libs wll loose. See Lp-ers, I’m getting more confident. Hope it lasts.

  9. Maggie says:

    Check out the fabulous post by Bob Ellis, sorry Mark yours was great too. I love Bob even as I loathe hime…

  10. silkworm says:

    PM heckled with ‘scumbag’ taunts

    Prime Minister John Howard looks down at a woman who was knocked to the ground during the PM’s visit to a shopping centre in Penrith in the seat of Lindsay, Sydney.

    Prime Minister John Howard has been mobbed by voters during a chaotic campaign doorstop at a western Sydney shopping centre today.

    Mr Howard has spent today campaigning in the key outer Sydney seat of Lindsay.

    The Prime Minister was heckled with shouts of “scumbag” and “disgrace”, while not everyone was keen to shake his hand.

    “You going to look after us on interest rates? Well, I didn’t like the fact they’ve gone up,” one shopper said.

    One woman was knocked to the ground as the media pack hurriedly followed the Mr Howard as he faced questions over industrial relations, education and this week’s interest rate hike.

    At least one shopper had to be shepherded away by police.

    I wonder if Mr Howard apologized to the woman who was pushed over by the media scrum. After all, he was responsible for them being there.

  11. mbahnisch says:

    Apparently, he did not.

    Graham Young thinks it might be the handshake moment of this campaign:

  12. jinmaro says:

    Bob Ellis is choice. It’s a crime he isn’t hired by a daily as political commentator. I always log-on to the Byron Echo to read his weekly column. All his pieces make me hungry for more such erudite, literary, funny, devastating political commentary. Been starved of it. Still am.

  13. Stephen Bayne says:

    11. I think he may be right. That certainly did not look good especially with that guy next to him looking at him as if to say “Well? What are you going to do?”

  14. silkworm says:

    Howard has developed superpowers and is now unstoppable. It must be all that praying to Thor that did it.


  15. joe2 says:

    Shit Dave miracle if ever i saw it.

  16. silkworm says:

    It’s Howard on the set of the next installment of Star Wars – The Emperor Strikes Back. In this installment, it turns out that Julia Gillard is really Kevin Rudd’s sister. Peter Garrett is the Sith Lord. Amanda Vanstone returns from Rome to play Jabba the Hutt.

  17. Paul Burns says:

    Mark, Stephen,
    I hadn’t thought of the knock-down incident as equivalent to the Latham handshake, but that might be right. Seeing Howard walk away, when I actually expected him to pick her up or at least hang around to see if she was okay gave me an approximate sensation to the one I experienced when I first saw the Latham handshake, though not quite as strong. I think he might have been copping too much abuse and was scared that might be the news item for the night. Instead it was worse. He revealed himself for the uncaring bastard he is.

  18. Ambigulous says:

    If he’d stopped to pick her up every paramedic in the country’d have been on TV saying he risked breaking her spine. Besides, she may have come to and abused him from 20cm.

    He’s been copping a lot of sarcasm and catcalls from voters, more than in past campaigns I think.

    Ah we Aussies, we do like to kick a guy when we’re fairly certain he’s prostrate, do we not? It’s a national trait as strong as our celebration of war defeats, getting stuck into the booze at the cricket, having an annual flutter on the gee-gees, getting stuck into tall poppies, etc.

  19. What amazed me was that he didn’t do anything that might even look like being helpful. I thought that he would at least make a big deal out of calling for someone to help her, but to stand like a stunned mullet and then walk off was surreal. It was a little like the footage of GW Bush being told about the Sept 11 attack while he was in that school reading my pet goat, his brain just shut down,

  20. Andyc says:

    Ambigulous “Ah we Aussies, we do like to kick a guy when we’re fairly certain he’s prostrate, do we not? “

    Speak for yourself. I’ve been kicking Ratty since 1996. Most of that time, Ratty has been on his feet and smug as hell, while I have been taking flack from him and his toadies. He has shown himself completely unworthy of mercy, so I’ll carry on, thank you.

    Anything that shows up the little sh*t for what he is, is good.

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