The dust on Gillard’s decision is far from settled
If there were a form of theatrical torture more cruel than subjecting voters to an eight-month election campaign, Labor strategists surely would have thought of it.
As if Australians aren’t struggling enough with the everyday trials and tribulations.
Now they must be subjected to an agonising political pantomime which started yesterday with the arrest of dumped Labor MP Craig Thomson, and will only end - presumably in tears - on September 14.
News of Thomson being charged with 150 offences has, by fate or God’s cruel design, made a mockery of Julia Gillard’s claim that by calling the election early the government could rise above the political muck.
It has forced Gillard to have to deny any link that suggests she called the election date early, knowing that Thomson was about to be charged.
Such a theory would suggest that police tipped off the Prime Minister, which is ludicrous, even considering the bizarre nature of the decision in the first place.
But that hasn’t stopped the opposition making the connection, which is hardly surprising, considering Tony Abbott’s campaign is focused on destroying Gillard’s credibility on the issue
And it hasn’t stopped Labor MPs now pondering the possibility that the entire strategy for calling the election early was to deal with the fear of possible by-elections caused by an early resignation by Thomson or Peter Slipper.
Whatever the possible added motives, the wheels appear to have already come loose before the campaign wagon has even rolled out of town.
But as a stage show, the opening of Election 2013 was not confined to the Prime Minister. Abbott has also had a shocker.
His day one was ruined, and then only saved when Thomson was arrested, when an email exchange between the Opposition Leader and his staff was leaked to The Daily Telegraph.
In it, Abbott appeared to be more concerned about what people thought about him personally than about his policies.
Bugger the policy, I just want to be loved.
Meanwhile Kevin Rudd was up in Queensland putting on a Putinesque display of manliness by cutting into a log with a chainsaw in a symbol of his eternal resolve to cut Gillard down.
Rudd clearly didn’t get the memo from Gillard that there in fact is no election campaign yet, apparently.
There is no doubt in the minds of Rudd supporters that Gillard had Rudd in her mind with the early call. But far from being disheartened by the announcement, they have been startled into action from their summer torpor. They are confident Rudd is only 6-10 votes short of the numbers needed.
Admittedly, those 6-10 are rusted on to Gillard.
Rudd’s problem is that he could be only one away from what he needs, and still not get there if that one refuses to shift.
But the internal fallout from Gillard’s decision has not yet settled. And many MPs are apoplectic.
Consider what happened at the last election. Two seats were held by Labor in western Sydney by wafer-thin margins. One of them, Lindsay, by a matter of a few hundred votes.
What did the Liberal Party fail to do at the last election in Lindsay? Apart from not having a candidate when the campaign bell rang, they didn’t get a postal vote application campaign up and running.
Ask any state Labor campaign official how important this is. By knowing when the election is called, Labor can mail out its postal vote applications in the days before it is actually called so they are in the mailbox on day one.
Electoral rules prevent parties having this material out any earlier. Which means the Liberals and Nationals in opposition have to wait until it’s actually called to send theirs out, leading to a delay of up to three days.
Postal votes favour the Libs, so Labor is religious about getting in ahead of them to pick off as many possible votes as they can. Getting in early is a proven advantage.
And as Lindsay proved, a few hundred can make the difference to being in government or not.
By giving the Liberals the election date, Gillard has given up a crucial weapon.
As a result many marginal seat MPs believe that she has put now them in graver danger than they were already in. If people think there is something odd about it, then that’s because there is something odd about it.
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