Today’s highly amusing farce of the proposed inquiry into Victorian Labor’s nasty campaign tactics turning into a witch-hunt against the major parties generally appears to have been part of a cunning plan by Labor’s chief electoral strategist and street-fighter of the old school, Stephen Newnham.
It is conventional wisdom for many of the adviser class to duck and cover at the first sign of conflict.
But often the smart play is to have conflicts around the conversations you want to have. Forever enshrining the notion that a vote for “independent” candidates backed by extreme left money and Liberal preferences is a vote for the Liberals fits very well with Newnham’s strategy.
In the case of the conflict over whether saying a vote for X candidate is a vote for Y, that is a small issue. The assertion that it is misleading, in any way that could cross a legal threshold, is clearly not supported by logic or sound legal opinion. That’s why the candidate didn’t take the matter to court. He knew he’d lose.
ARE YOU A PLAYER OR ARE YOU BEING PLAYED?
But this little scrap says a lot we think about how the players play the game.
The Liberals under Baillieu’s leadership are always reacting. It’s not clear what they stand for and why. It’s not clear who they’re speaking for anymore.
Under Premier Kennett it was always clear. Progress. Development. Opportunity. Let’s go, let’s get it done, now. It was an awesome sight.
Perhaps this is an easier role for incumbents to play. And certainly Kennett sometimes looked very ordinary as Opposition Leader.
But here’s a case where Ted Baillieu’s principal backer David Davis made a stupid, ill-thought out decision to have an inquiry without following that age-old doctrine: never hold an inquiry unless you first know the outcome.
You know who said that originally? Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen, who governed Queensland for an absurdly long time. Whatever his limitations and achievements for the state, we feel confident in advancing the argument that his political skill was vastly superior to any of the current Liberal parliamentary leadership in Victoria.
By contrast it seems that Labor’s state secretary in deliberately trying to inflame the issue knew exactly what he was doing.
His provocative letter this week to Davis is one of the more amusing things we’ve seen in quite a while. It is clearly calculated to provoke and draw further attention to the issue.
CURING TENNIS ELBOWS SINCE 1984
Newnham openly refers to the Liberal Lefty as a “latte” liberal, and seems keen to press every Liberal button within his reach:
I am appalled by your shamefully patronising view that you assume working families in Kororoit are incapable of making informed political decisions. The arrogant assumption that you can somehow dupe working families is a view that really only holds currency in the coffee shops of Kew or in the waiting rooms of Camberwell chiropractors.
Mr Davis of course is a retired chiropractor who made his fortune dealing with the tennis elbows of the women of leafy eastern suburbs.
He even threw in an added taunt about Baillieu’s leadership that would have had D-squared squirming in his red leather chair.
But most importantly he makes his case in a way that few with an open mind could seriously dispute, providing clear proof of claims made during that election.
His calmness under fire was probably at the heart of the campaign success in Kororoit, a campaign that could have gone horribly wrong for the government. The MP Marlene Kairouz is going very well indeed we hear but found herself to be the candidate with very little time to campaign. It all happened so fast.
WHY THIS MATTERS FOR ALL OF US
We say the stakes were much higher than a by-election loss for a government that probably deserves the occasional kick up the backside.
It is clear if candidates supported by the extreme left are elected in the place of ALP candidates in the west that there is not only a weakened Labor Party (for Liberals a good thing) but you open up the house that forms the government to be held hostage to people with extreme agenda (a good thing for no-one, Liberals or Labor alike).
That’s why Labor and Liberal should stop preferencing Greens in the lower house. Before it’s too late. That’s why Liberals should resist the temptation to preference to candidates financed by Dean Mighell again. It’s dangerous politics because it’s not values driven. It’s purely enemy of my enemy is my friend politics with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The stakes were high.
In battle, to be willing to draw fire so that others might achieve their objectives takes a unique courage. To do so and survive, repeatedly, suggests that not only bravery but a lot of smarts too.