The parliamentary theatre of the absurd. They read from scripts these days and increasingly they bring in props to illustrate their acting for those who might see a performance but not actually hear it.

The players are applauded or heckled on the basis of how well they deliver their rehearsed lines. The transformation of politics into theatre is all but complete. And the theatre of the absurd at that. For the Australian parliamentary performer must not, under any circumstance, speak in other than riddles.

Plain talking is not the way of today’s political playwrights who prepare those folders the major actors carry with them to the dispatch box. Scripts can hint and suggest at the truth but must not reveal it less the words be stolen and have their meaning twisted by a competing author to use on some later occasion.

Perhaps theatre is the wrong word to describe parliamentary question time. Perhaps unreality television fits better. The actors and actresses, after all, essentially are strutting their stuff for the cameras that record their every movement.

The nightly news shows meaningless extracts and radio on the hour, every hour, duly plays bits of the soundtrack.

In the morning papers, journalists play critics and political reputations are made and destroyed not by how well a politician does the real job of trying to run the country but by their perceived ability to look and sound as if they can run the country.

Get ready for a hockey dad. If Sarah Palin reckons a hockey mum like herself is a pit bull with lipstick then what does that make Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper? The Conservative Leader is expected to call a general election at the weekend and The Toronto Globe and Mail says the Tories plan to frame Mr. Harper as a minivan-driving hockey dad from the suburbs.

His chief rival Liberal leader Stéphane Dion they will paint as an elitist professor who has difficulty articulating a vision, making decisions and relating to Canadians. It will give all of us election freaks a little something to be going on with before the big one on the first Tuesday in November.

The latest opinion poll points towards the Canadian Conservatives approaching the point where they could even win majority government. According to The Globe and Mail-CTV News poll , conducted by the Strategic Counsel, 37 per cent of Canadians would opt to vote for the Tories were an election to be held this week, compared with 29 per cent for the Liberals, 17 per cent for the NDP and 9 per cent for the Green Party. The Crikey Election Indicator, based on the Intrade prediction market, has the Conservatives as a 75% chance of winning most seats at the federal poll with the Liberals on 25%.

An honorary rugby mum improves. If Helen Clark was a mum I’m sure she wouldn’t be one of that wussy soccer variety. Wikipedia does say she cried at her wedding but it also records that in 2005, a motorcade involving police, Diplomatic Protection Squad, and Ministerial Services staff reached speeds of up to 172 km/h when taking the New Zealand Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister Jim Sutton from Waimate to Christchurch Airport so she could attend a rugby union match in Wellington.

That surely qualifies Helen Clark as an honorary rugby mum and she is one tough politician, perhaps more bull terrier than pit bull for she has that characteristic of not giving up, despite the odds, in a way that’s reminiscent of James Thurber’s Rex pulling home the chest of drawers.

Tough is what she needs to be because the opinion polls had not been kind this year until a Morgan Poll out this week gave a glimmer of hope. An election is due at any time of her choosing from now on with 15 November generally regarded as the latest possible date but there’s no reason to hurry when you are a long way behind.

What this week’s New Zealand Roy Morgan Poll shows is that National Party support at 44.5% (down 3.5%) is only 6.5% ahead of the Labour Party 38% (up 4%) — the closest the two major parties have been for nearly a year, since October 2007 when the National Party led 45% to Labour on 40.5%.

If an election were held now, says Morgan, New Zealand would have a Coalition Government likely to be led by the National Party. Support for the NZ First Party of Winston Peters has dropped significantly in the wake of the party funding scandal with NZ First down 4% to 2.5% — the lowest result for NZ First since September 2007. Support for the Greens was 8% (up 0.5%), Maori Party 3.5% (up 1.5%), ACT NZ 1.5% (unchanged), United Future 1% (up 1%) and Others 1% (up 0.5%).

This is how Morgan has had support for the parties moving since the last election:

The Crikey New Zealand Election Indicator has Labour a 26% chance to 74% for the Nationals.

Confronting a soccer playing madam. Perhaps Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson should put back the earring. His image as a truck riding bikie has suffered severely from the revelation that his leadership deputy Julie Bishop felt compelled to come to his aid during a confrontation with Labor backbencher Belinda Neal.

It all happened, Ms Bishop has recounted, at the end of a flight to Sydney last Thursday. Dr Nelson had offered to retrieve Ms Neal’s hand luggage from the overhead locker.

“She then asked Dr Nelson if he had received a letter from her.” Ms Bishop told the press yesterday. “He said that he had not. She said, ‘You have got a letter from me, I’m demanding an apology for what you said about me.’ She was menacing in her tone, she was walking very close to Dr Nelson, so I moved out into the aisle to stand between them.”

The allegation is that Ms Neal then walked “very closely” behind Dr Nelson and Ms Bishop as they made their way into the terminal. A bit llike hiding behind a woman’s skirts really.

Beating the underdog effect. Presumably the Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter called his early election because his pollster told him he was far enough in front to overcome the dreaded underdog effect which sees people act a little perversely if they think a government set for an easy victory is taking them for granted.

Trying to overcome any such danger of complacency has been the major theme of the Carpenter campaign and I cannot recall any other leader who has run so hard on saying he could well be beaten. To my mind he should have done enough to hang on, aided as he will be tomorrow by a redistribution which removes the weighting that in past WA state elections has been given to non-metropolitan electorates.

As this is an election where most of us are starved of information from opinion pollsters I am turning to the market for guidance assuming that those with inside knowledge of what the parties themselves have gleaned has by now been factored in.

Both the betting exchange Betfair and the bookmakers have Labor slightly above a 70% probability of winning although I am a little disconcerted to note that the $1.30 about Labor I took with my own hard earned last night with one bookmaker has now become $1.33. My confidence is not sufficient to go back for a second helping!

Peter Fray

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