Peter Smith

Voting Labor? Now that’s really scary

Terrifying stuff! Shake in your boots. For the umpteenth time Penny Wong tells us that if the polls are right and the election had been held Tony Abbott would be prime minister. Ms Wong never tires of this horror story and clearly believes it has enormous impact in scaring the pants of us. Why wouldn’t it, she thinks?

A dose of a thoroughly decent family man, a volunteer without fanfare for charitable causes, someone with a longstanding commitment to helping Aboriginal communities, who has extensive experience as a minister in the most stable and successful government in memory, and who is an author and Rhodes scholar too boot, and who leads a stable, loyal and experienced team. Now that is all a disconcerting change of pace.

Ms Wong obviously believes that we have become used to (comfortable with, even) dysfunctional, double-dealing, incompetent spendthrifts running things. Here we all are, she thinks, wallowing in union corruption, seedy deals, deficits and debt, instability and waste, grandiose un-costed visions and thought bubbles, without a care in the world. Mr Abbott would spoil it.

If the worst occurred, you can imagine Penny drawn to peeking back secretly and longingly — a pillar of salt springs to my mind for some reason — as Tony and his team bring back integrity, stability and competence to public life. This would be career-limiting for Labor politicians and union wannabes and therefore you can understand their angst. But is it scary for the rest of us? Not clearly to the 54% (according to Newspoll) who intend to vote for the Coalition or give them preference. How about among the 46% who apparently still intend to give Labor their primary vote or their preference? Well some of them might be scared, but I suspect very few. Most form a natural constituency of the left, or are tribally rusted-on, whatever the circumstances.

Among the 46% are those dependent on government handouts who understandably vote for the party that they think will serve them best. When you are up against it priorities tend to become focussed. There is no blame here. My view is that conservative parties generally don’t explain themselves clearly enough to attract this vote. It is a pity because they have practical and compassionate solutions to offer and therefore a persuasive message. Mitt Romney in the last US presidential election, with his comment about those whose vote he couldn’t attract because they didn’t pay tax, sums up the ineptness of many conservative politicians and, often, their lack of understanding of conservative philosophy.

Among them are young people. This is understandable too. We are stuck with people voting at the age of eighteen to twenty-one. They know little about life and are out of their depth.

Among them also are the idealists, including the environmental zealots. This generally has been a societal affliction down the ages which has found expression in peace movements and in cults of various kinds. There is nothing to be done about it; though its penetration of the mainstream and social media, and universities, and schools, carries much more threat to our economic progress and cultural traditions these days than it ever did in the past.

While it is fortunate that we don’t have racial minorities as in the US (blacks and Hispanics) voting en masse or predominantly for only one party at each election; welfare recipients, the young, and the idealists all give the Labor Party a head start. This means that to win the Coalition must get the votes of a large majority of grounded tax-paying adults and retirees.

Sufficient support is evident right now among this group to give the Coalition victory. But probably the worst government in Australia’s history is still as close as it is because tribal affiliation among some in this same group trumps their common sense. Even in 1975 the Whitlam Labor Government (probably the second worst in Australia’s history) managed 44.3% of the two-party preferred vote to the Coalition’s 55.7%.

So there must be large numbers of tax-paying adults and retirees, otherwise exhibiting common sense, including many of well-above average intelligence, who intend voting for a government that they know has completely stuffed things up and is likely to go on doing so. It is summed up by "hang the national interest — I want my footy team, sorry my political party, to win even if it means throwing in with those whose self-interest, youth, or idealism clouds their objectivity and judgement." Now that’s really scary.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

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