The class war is dead – so is the wedge.

On Saturday, plenty of Australians got out of bed and decided either they were keen to have a bunch of union thugs running the country, or that the Coalition campaign had been crap.

Our new Deputy PM, Julia Gillard, is supposedly a “radical” surrounded by “extremists” and “union thugs”. As the “unexperienced” Kevin Rudd takes the helm next week, he can be confident that his overwhelmingly positive campaign got him there against a very poor, Republican-style, negative campaign run by the Coalition.

I can only speculate as to why the Liberal Party and Nationals took the course they did.

After this year’s Federal Budget, there was no claw back for the government in the polls, despite throwing cash around like confetti. At that point, in about June ’07, Labor was in the box seat.

Then the Liberal pollsters Crosby Textor, had some research leak, telling the Coalition they should be talking about their “team”. I doubt Crosby Textor were setting up a “team” strategy for the election campaign. They were probably politely telling their client, John Howard, that he needed to go. Howard didn’t listen. That’s why he correctly took full responsibility for the loss in his concession speech.

At 5pm on Saturday, Labor pollster John Armitage from Auspoll revealed the election result on SKY TV with spot-on exit polling. Armitage also revealed why the Coalition had run the campaign they did.

Auspoll tested the Liberal Party brand against John Howard’s. The results showed people actually still wanted to vote Liberal in big numbers, but that John Howard was the main reason they were opting for change. Thus the “team” ads and emphasis by the Libs.

What we don’t know is who will claim credit for advising them to run with the anti-union campaign. For weeks, as those ads hit the airwaves, focus groups should have told the Liberals to change tactics.

Virtually all of the age demographics under 55 had no idea what the point of those ads was. They found the claims in those ads unbelievable. And they weren’t suckered into the wedge Howard tried desperately to cut between his blue collar “battlers” and Kevin Rudd.

The 2007 Federal Election had many of the traits of the 1999 Victorian election. Labor had a fresh new leader who stuck to a positive, forward-looking agenda. Both Kennett and Howard looked unassailable and had been divisive, wedge players. Any criticism of Kennett or Howard by anyone, individual or group, supporter or adversary, saw revolts ruthlessly put down. People were privately threatened with government-sanctioned retribution and publicly ridiculed.

In the 1999 Victorian campaign, the Kennett Government ran the same negative “guilty party” ads which it had regurgitated from 1992 and again in 1996. People were sick of that negative style and sick of being treated like idiots. The 2007 Coalition ads had a similar tone.

The US Republicans will have watched this Australian election closely, as will Helen Clarke in New Zealand. The US Republicans and their campaigning style are the ones the Australian Liberal Party emulated. A degree of negative campaigning is necessary in any election context. But I think in recent years, the campaign handbook is being re-written.

Whilst the Republicans don’t get stuck with Bush in the 2008 Presidential race, they will have to change tack as they choose their Presidential candidate, to find one who can reinvent their tired image as a wedge party protecting the old world.

Similarly, Helen Clarke faces a poll next year with her version of a Kevin Rudd/Steve Bracks – relatively unknown, fresh faced, positive and ahead in the polls.

These days, people are more scared of a government who can’t adapt to rapid change than they are of a government that has a go. Kevin Rudd and Tim Gartrell understood that issues like Climate Change and broadband were their new age wedges between Howard – their product differentiation. They knew Howard would not and could not adapt on these issues and they could be seen as a party of the future, capable of running a country in the modern world.

This 2007 Australian Federal Election changed the conventions handbook. It’s not just “the economy stupid” any more. Honesty and decency do seem to matter.