“It’s not our job to support (insert what the government is doing with a negative twist)” Tony Abbott
If there’s one line that’s caused more upset for the current ALP government than any other line the opposition leader’s used during this term of parliament, it’s the one above.
Firstly, it contains certain assumptions surrounding whose job it is to define the government’s agenda.
Secondly, it makes the opposition leader the issue for the government rather than the policy area being dealt with at the time.
Thirdly, it makes the playing field uneven. The ALP want the opposition leader to be judged by the public at the same standard they’re judged at as a government (this is a major mistake in my view).
If there is one major criticism I’ve had of the present ALP, it’s their confusion about the role of government, the role of opposition and everyone else in the political process. If you’re the government, by definition, you’re the one who has the power. Not the opposition, not the opposition leader, not the media, not some wealthy individual or outside organisations donating to your political opponents. If you’re the government, you’re in charge. You are the issue because governments are always the issue for the public! You define the roles! No one else. You are responsible.
So when the ALP attack the opposition leader over pretty much anything related to policy, the public see it as blame and if the government is blaming their problems on the opposition leader, who’s stewarding the nation? Who’s in control of the national debate?
Here’s a common news headline: “Abbott urged to release policies”
Who’s in control here? The people doing the urging or the person being urged? One might think such a headline is bad news for the opposition leader because he appears to be avoiding scrutiny when in reality, his people are in complete control of the power dynamic. This is not an even playing field and they know it and they know exactly how the government reacts to it.
Pretty much every poll available to the public that asks the question of approval of political leaders shows Tony Abbott to be one of the most unpopular opposition leaders in Australian history. People have very strong views about him and they’re mostly negative. The predisposition towards him from the electorate is “I don’t like him” or the more emotional “I hate him!” and the one I personally resonate with: “I’m tired of him.”
He never has been and never will be popular with the Australian public.
The ALP observe such polling and conduct focus groups that show the same thing and assume the solution to their problems is to emphasise just how unpopular he really is. The public who are disengaged and for the most part already understand what’s going on react to these tactics by saying “So what? We hate him. We know. We don’t care. You’re the government! What have you done for me lately?” and then the focus of attention shifts directly back to the ALP’s negative issues and behaviour.
By relentlessly focusing on Abbott’s unpopularity, the ALP unintentionally give him authority that he’s never had and in doing so they make themselves the issue. It’s a bit like one of those homing missiles that misses it’s target and begins to follow the person who fired it.
Yesterday, Abbott joined his local volunteer firefighting service to fight the bushfires engulfing New South Wales. If there is one thing he’s constantly made known about his private life throughout his time in federal politics, it’s the time he devotes to this cause. This is one of those situations where if you attack him, you will never nail him because he’s got pretty much all of his bases covered. It’s a minefield of positive emotional vectors for him and potentially negative emotional vectors for the ALP.
Instead of calmly letting it go, the Minister for Small Business Brendan O’Connor on twitter took the bait and warned his followers to standby for yet another Abbott publicity stunt. He immediately apologised for the remark after he experienced the reaction this sort of comment generates during this type of circumstance.
The misguided thinking and assumptions behind such an attack goes like this: “Abbott will get positive publicity for doing something good for his community and looking courageous in his fire gear, fighting real danger. This must be stopped by any means necessary. Let’s attack him by implying he’s inauthentically volunteering during a time of national emergency. How could that possibly go wrong? The conservatives would do the same thing if they were in our position so let’s follow their playbook. It’s in the media so it must demand an immediate aggressive reply, regardless of the consequences!” … and so on.
When you see this sort of thing happen in real-time, you have to double check that its actually a government minister making the comment. It speaks volumes about how the government sees it’s role and none of its good. Every time you see this sort of attack from the government, it communicates at a subtle level that “we don’t have our act together” and in the end, that’s what people really care about. It’s almost as if they’re trying to dig Abbott out of the holes he’s dug for himself.
If all you see is Tony Abbott and the media everywhere and you define your entire political strategy based upon what you anticipate Tony Abbott and the media are going to do and you consider Tony Abbott the greatest opposition leader you’ve ever seen and you’re unclear about what your role in the community is, you’re very likely missing an extremely large chunk of what’s happening in the real world. It’s like the awareness test below. If you’re only counting the passes the team in white makes, you’re probably missing the moonwalking bear.
“When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see everything as a nail” Abraham Masolw