The election campaign framed around utter pity
The Russell Lea Infants School class of 2010 graduated yesterday and among my daughter’s collection of journals, exercise books and achievement certificates is an unusual piece of political memorabilia.
All the kids at this terrific K2 (kindergarten to grade two) public school have spent the past three years doing the Premiers Reading Challenge, introduced by Bob Carr as a literacy measure a few years ago. It’s a great program in that it introduces a sense of personal competition where the kids read as many books as they can from a set list, and receive a certificate at the end of the year.
The certificates for the past three years show how the NSW Labor Party has reduced the premiership to the status of cheap baseball swap cards, and my daughter has collected the whole set. In 2008 she got a certificate from Morris Iemma, in 2009 she got one from Nathan Rees, and this year she got one from Kristina Keneally, prompting her to ask the very sensible question a few months ago as to whether there was a different premier in NSW every year. The answer to which is obviously yes.
If Russell Lea went up to grade three, in the absence of a political miracle of unprecedented magnitude, next year’s Premiers Reading Challenge would be signed by Barry O’Farrell, unless of course the Liberals axe it to save on printing.
At this stage we have no clear idea whether the Liberals will or won’t do any such thing as their election bid appears to be framed around the smallest of small target strategies. Setting aside its now traditional lack of policy development this uninspiring branch of the Liberal Party is also tactically challenged. It’s regarded with borderline contempt by none other than Tony Abbott, who holds it almost wholly responsible for losing the federal election by failing to preselect candidates in key federal seats in advance of the campaign.
Many of its policy positions have been confusing and inconsistent - it sided with the Greens to block the release of school performance data, yet took a bizarrely conservative line opposing ethics classes in favour of religious education, probably to head off an internal stoush driven by the likes of rampaging born again David Clarke. At least these two instances have involved a policy stand, something which in other portfolios the party has been at pains to avoid.
For all this though the polls and (more importantly) any random conversation you have with fellow voters demonstrates one truth - at the moment, the consensus is that a party with no policies or confusing policies is still vastly preferable to the contemptible shambles which is NSW Labor, and a government which has become such a farce that even its own members would sooner quit than face the justified wrath of the people.
Kristina Keneally is in unchartered political territory - even Joan Kirner in Victoria was in better shape when she inherited the wreckage of Victoria from John Cain and became the first female premier to be sacrificed in the name of factional expediency by leading Labor to a noble defeat.
It’s unlikely there will be anything noble for Labor about next year’s NSW election. Analysts within the party are predicting Labor could retain as few as 20 or even 15 seats in this 93-seat Parliament.
Over the next few weeks when everyone else is relaxing Kristina Keneally will be sitting down with party chiefs and her (few) remaining sitting members to craft an election strategy and - hilariously enough - cook up a slogan which captures Labor’s argument for a fifth term. Given that last time it was “More to do but heading in the right direction” it’s anyone’s guess what they’ll come up with next year.
From what we have seen from Ms Keneally lately, it’s becoming apparent that the campaign will be framed around two things. Herself, and the most unusual of all emotions in a political context - pity.
The message is that Kristina Keneally is a really nice person who is hard-working and committed and compassionate, and that she’s pretty much got the worst job in the world, you have to feel sorry for her, maybe she (not Labor but she) deserves a chance.
The recent stoush with party president Bernie Riordan was largely a confected one aimed at consolidating her credentials in that department. Riordan played a lead role in the knifing of Morris Iemma over power privatisation and the rolling of Nathan Rees over pretty much anything but, on paper, he was not acting particularly disloyally towards Keneally. The statement he made in a union newsletter about members thinking about a vote for the Coalition or the Greens was not a call for them to do so; rather it was a carefully-worded warning which recognised the reality that even the most rusted-on Labor voters have run out of patience with this lot and are considering casting their vote elsewhere.
For Keneally, the decision to demand and secure Riordan’s sacking - given that he’s seen by many in the party as a blow-hard and an expendable irrititant - had less to do with any lofty matter of principle, but was about giving her a rare win.
It will be fascinating to see how a party that has lost all credibility will craft any kind of message out of this mess, and stage manage something which anyone with the remotest interest in politics can recognise as a failure.
Surely not even the NSW Liberals can lose this one. My only regret is that there isn’t a grade three at Russell Lea so my daughter could collect the whole set.
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