“Labor merits a third term,” the Herald Sun says in its Victorian election eve editorial today. Well, that’s perfectly clear.

In contrast, Spencer Street seems shrouded in fog. “Victorians must find a better balance, in every way,” The Age says. Victorians need to fumble their way through a real pea-souper to have any idea about what the leader writers are on about.

Can you see through it? A third of the way through a thousand-word-plus leader, we stumble across this:

Both Labor premier John Cain and Mr Kennett came to office with visions that drove fundamental changes to how the state was governed; to how society and the economy operated. In this election we heard from neither party on vision.

The Bracks Government’s seven years have largely been a time of reasonably effective but cautious managerialism; any inclination to boldness, with its risks and costs, seems to have been crushed by the “guilty party” memory.

Health and education services have been restored when public opinion demands, and spending has been spread in a calculated way around the state, but surpluses have been excessive. Competency and caution have been good enough for want of a credible alternative.

It is not Mr Baillieu’s fault, but it is his problem that his small team lacks the critical political mass usually needed to win office…

Grope your way on for another 570 words and you finally bump into the final four sentences:

[V]oters are likely to return the Government more or less by default, although they may put Labor on notice. In 1996, Mr Brumby, as opposition leader, urged voters to restore the balance, a call The Age backed even as it endorsed the return of the Kennett government.

A decade on, the political tables have turned, but again The Age believes Victorians’ interests would be best served if they restored the balance. They could then insist on a real choice between competing visions of government.

We thought that sorta kinda said “vote Liberal”, but couldn’t properly see through the haze. So we contacted The Age’s editor, Andrew Jaspan, to see if he could point us in the right direction.

“As a voter, you must decide how to vote,” he said. “I won’t be telling you. Or do you need to be told?”

Well, no. We don’t need to be told. We’re quite capable of making up our own minds. But we also we expect an institution that has portrayed itself as an opinion shaper for a century and a half like The Age to have views of its own – articulated clearly, with authority. Like its famous editorial on the eve of the 1975 poll: “We will say it straight, and clear, and at once. The Whitlam Government has run its course.”

Here in the Crikey bunker we sorta kinda think the leader says “vote Liberal” – but if Spencer Street has got a shine for Baillieu, they’re treating it like the love that dare not speak its name.

Sorta kinda. Another minority school here in Crikey thinks The Age doesn’t want to back either party – but is too scared to say so.

Whatever way, it’s very bad for The Age. A generation ago, it was the nation’s leading broadsheet. It mattered to more than Melbourne. Now it just offers fog.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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