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February 26th 2012 print

James Allan

When losing ends up being winning

Julia Gillard made a dumb deal with the Greens on the carbon dioxide tax when in retrospect we can all see that the Greens would never, ever have gone with Abbott.


I think we can all agree that generally speaking it is better to win elections than lose them.


The point of democracy is to let the numbers count and the point of trying to win a democratic election is to implement policies that your side of politics think will make the country a better place to live.

Sure, given that majoritarian politics with sensible voting systems means that political parties are broad churches – they are big tent organisations that have ever shifting coalitions of free marketeers, social conservatives, small government and fiscal responsibility people and even libertarians on one side and a similar shifting group encompassing union supporters, big government types, public servants, inner city lawyer types and more on the other – and it’s obvious that compromises have to be made. No political party will ever stand for everything any voter wants, not outside Zimbabwe if you’re Robert Mugabe.

But in most elections there will still be one side that seems likely to implement more of what you think is important.

And it is better for that side to win, than to lose, if you are to see your program prevail (more or less).

But there can be exceptions to the ‘it’s better to win’ rule. And I think one of those rare exceptions is right now. We’re living through it.

This is the once a century scenario where the election throws up more or less of a tie and a handful of loose cannon independents, and a fringe, nominally conservationist party seemingly committed to having us all go back to subsistence farming.

When the election throws up this sort of result, winning can be losing. It ain’t necessarily so. But it can be, at least if you’re not very, very careful.

And Julia Gillard wasn’t careful. She made a dumb deal with the Greens on the carbon dioxide tax when in retrospect we can all see that the Greens would never, ever have gone with Abbott. She could have told the Bob Brown crowd to get lost and they still would have gone with her. She compromised herself by compromising with them.

Then there were the two rural socialist independents, men whose views of themselves and of their own importance, and their need to avoid a quick new election, made them poor partners for anyone.

Of course one still wants to win and form government in such mutant and highly unusual situations. But doing so can be a curse. Giving away too much and doing so can be worse, a lot worse.

I think that’s what has happened to Labor. Nothing in human affairs is dead certain but it’s looking ever more likely that the Coalition will win this coming election and the next and maybe the next after that with a whole generation of future Labor leaders wiped out by this fiasco of a Parliament.

If you’re on the Coalition side of the fence, more or less, then that is good. Of course there will have been a lot of damage done in those years of minority government. Some of the damage can be undone. But maybe not all of it.

Still, fifteen years from now it is quite possible that most observers will look back and say ‘that was the election to lose’ while sitting in the airport shoe shine shop asking Mister Oakeshott for a quick shine.