I once heard the prime minister’s polling and strategy guru, Mark Textor, tell an industry group that in any campaign, no matter what it was, fear beats hope every time.

It is a cynical and gloomy take on our politics, but we have seen it in the past just as we are seeing it again.

The mantra about big bad unions and their officials was hammered again last night by John Howard. Unrepresentative, he cried, they will dominate.

But will it scare the punters? Does Textor know something the respected Australian Election Study does not?

Asked whether trade unions had too much power, 35.4% of those surveyed answered yes (strongly agree) in 1990, 38% in 1993, 37.6% in 1996, 24.2% in 1998, 19.4% in 2001 and 15.5% in 2004.

On the other hand, asked whether big business had too much power, 22.1% strongly agreed in 1990, 27.7% in 1993, 29% in 1996, 31.1% in 1998, 31.8% in 2001 and 27.1% in 2004.

How many representatives of big business are there in the Coalition? Could it be 100%? (Subscriptions to the Institute of Public Affairs and H. R. Nicholls Society could be very revealing).

And talking about how representative the ALP is, what about the predominance of private school educated people in the Coalition? Does this accord with the life experience of the majority of Australians?

It is little known but two of Australia’s most successful Liberal politicians had union ties. Victoria’s redoubtable premier, Henry Bolte (1955-72) briefly held an Australian Workers’ Union ticket in his younger days when working as a rouseabout, and Bob Askin, the most successful NSW Liberal of all time, and premier 1965-75, was not only a unionist but had been a union officical in the bank officers’ union.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey