If Labor were to form the next government, it would be because enough voters were persuaded that Kevin Rudd is a younger version of John Howard and that a Rudd government would broadly follow a Howardiste agenda. But the Coalition is not arguing that Rudd is secretly planning, as The Australian puts it, a “Whitlamesque program of social reform.” Instead it’s saying the former union bosses in Caucus will force Rudd to change the agenda.
For them, the “me too” agenda, from tax to the Northern Territory intervention, obviously goes against the grain. We know this from the ANU’s Australian Electoral Study, as analysed by Katherine Betts. This is not so much because of the number of union bosses in Caucus; rather it is the sort of union boss or apparatchik who now wins Labor pre-selection. (At this point I have to admit that I was for several years a trade union official, even occasionally attending meetings of the Labor Council.)
Labor politicians’ values are not only significantly different from the undecided who are leaning towards Kevin Rudd. They are also diametrically opposed to the values of Labor’s traditional blue collar support base. In fact, they are even more radical than the prevailing views of their fellow inner city elites, including Green voters. They are closest to Green politicians; in fact Bob Brown is only saying what the majority of Labor politicians are thinking.
This is not only about social values, but also economic policy. Just as an example, over 76% percent of blue collar voters think that high income tax makes people less willing to work hard, but less than one in five Labor politicians don’t want to hand back the tax. While only 25.3% of blue collar voters would prefer more money to be put into welfare than into tax reductions, a massive 85.2% of Labor politicians would increase welfare.
How Caucus must have hated it when Rudd and Swan lifted most of the Coalition’s tax policy. They kept quiet because they think Rudd will get them over the line.
As to social values, blue collar voters are very conservative, while Labor politicians are among the most radical. Kevin Rudd, very clever politician that he is, understands this. That’s why he brutally humiliated shadow foreign minister Robert McClelland for no more than enunciating Labor policy about the execution of the Bali terrorists. Rudd would know that while a majority of Australians, and over two thirds of blue collar voters, want the death penalty restored in Australia, less than one in twenty Labor politicians would share their views.
Unless the Labor politicians have experienced a Damascene conversion or sold their souls, Rudd won’t be able to control them if Labor wins. As Paul Kelly says, it’s untenable for the Australian media not to have put Rudd under more pressure. Either because they are complicit, incompetent or both, most in the media insist on presenting this election as a presidential contest. That’s as wrong as saying the world rugby was won by the South African captain; it was of course won by the South African team. We play under the Westminster rules. The prime minister is not an elected powerful American president; he’s untenured and merely first among equals. He can be overruled, or even removed, by Caucus.
This election is not presidential. It’s between the “blues”, a centrist to mildly right of centre team, and a mainly far left team, the “pink and greens”, led incongruously by an apparently centrist captain who seems more at home with the “blues”. The electorate is entitled to know everything about each team before they vote.
It’s about time the media did their job.