Do you remember back a year ago or so when every political commentator I can think of here in Australia was saying that the Coalition would be finished and crushed if it didn’t support some sort of carbon trading scheme?
Didn’t actually quite work out that way, did it?
Do you also recall how just about every commentator was saying Tony Abbott was unelectable and would be a disaster as Liberal Party leader? Instead, under his leadership, it was the best showing by a one term Australian Opposition in 7 or 8 decades and came within two giant ego rural socialist independent MPs of proving Mr. Abbott was so electable he could do it on the very first go.
Now we all might take these as signal lessons about the dangers of predictions and prognostications. Lots and lots and lots of very smart people have made predictions that, with the benefits of hindsight, look incredibly stupid.
On the other hand, we might take these examples much more narrowly, mainly to do with our political commentariat in this country. Our newspaper opinionistas seem to love to jump on bandwagons, especially if the wagon is heading, well, anywhere left.
Here’s another refrain we all hear fairly regularly – ‘that you can’t win elections as the party of NO’. A party that just blocks and opposes will lose to one with programs, vision, heaps of new ideas, new legislation galore to ram through when it gets the chance, and so on. At least that’s how the usual suspects seem to talk when it comes to Opposition parties.
Once again, though, last week’s US mid-term elections didn’t bear out that standard line of argument either. The party of ‘No’ was the party that cleaned up. It was the biggest gain in the House of Representatives since 1948. The Republicans also picked up 11 new Governorships at least (though lost two in California and Hawaii), won lots of State legislatures, and even took 6 new Senators in a year when the Democrats were defending friendly territory indeed compared to what they will have to defend in the Senate in 2012.
It seems that just saying ‘No’, or trying to block, delay and impede, can work rather well.
There’s a lesson in this for Mr. Abbott and the Coalition. Saying ‘No’ makes sense if what is being proposed goes against small government, conservative values. And that’s the case even if every political commentator drawing breath at the time thinks otherwise.
All the guff peddled by Messrs. Oakeshott and Windsor about working together and ‘new ways of doing things’ is only remotely attractive if what will be produced is something you, as a small government conservative, think will be good for the country. Otherwise, you ought to fight tooth and nail to block, impede, obstruct, and say ‘No, no, no’.
Doing anything else is simply aiding in an agenda that you believe will have malign consequences for the country.
Not only that, some governments can be so unpopular and distasteful that all you need to do is yell ‘No’ to win, and to win big. (Readers in New South Wales can think ahead to next March and the election then, and know what I mean.)
Of course some Opposition parties can go too far with this, saying ‘No’ to things they do, or should, believe in. Privatisation is an obvious example. Again, think of New South Wales, and Queensland, and then ask yourself if the Opposition parties there really made the right calls on that issue. I think not. If you ought to do it yourself, then you ought to support it when the other side of politics offers to do it.
But none of that applies to Mr. Abbott and the Coalition federally. Labor at the national level is not offering anything that I would like to see a Coalition government do. So I rather fancy just saying ‘No’ and making Julia Gillard and the two giant ego rural socialists have to wear, all by themselves, the fallout from all of their bad policy initiatives.
Which leaves us with this final question. Is it better for voters to like your leader or to like his policies? It seems to me that many political commentators think the former is the more important. I don’t. I’d opt for the latter any day if I had to choose between the two. If the voters like your policies then they can, and will, respect you, even if they don’t overly much like you.
Not only that, respect is also a less ethereal and variable commodity than likeability. So if you’re respected, you’ve got a much better chance of winning people over to liking you than the other way round. At least that’s my take on it.
Most voters aren’t nearly as venal and stupid as many in the commentariat seem to assume.
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law, University of Queensland