For a master of the political spin, our Prime Marketer should step into the upcoming election cycle with one significant advantage: the lingering mythology that conservatives are better economic managers.
Right now you can see him reaching for you Fight the economy like a drowning man with a manic barrage of iterative, real-time news tests from “Capitalism to Execute” to “Cost of Living”, all to transform political competition from the here and now into a hypothetical future under a. to relocate ruthless, wasteful Labor government.
This brand advantage has been a constant of competitions between political parties from right and left around the world, which have been recorded in more than 50 years of polls by veteran Washington pollster Vic Fingerhut that right-of-center parties win the narrow “better business manager” âCompetition regardless of actual performance.
The coalition was adept at gaining and holding the power of business: Interest Rates (2004), External Debt (2013), and a Made-up Tax Hooligan (2019) are just three examples of where elections were held and won their political home.
But the results of this week’s important Guardian report suggest that no matter how hard the Prime Minister rubs him, this time around, he is struggling to get the business spirit out of the bottle.
These are remarkable numbers, control over economic management is typically a 10-15% head start for conservatives, with the numbers leveling out when people are put into the formulation.
This time the big parties appear on the line on the abstraction of economic management, with Labor pushing into pole position if the proposal is expanded to include the intersection of economics with the lived experience of voters.
This is the critical second arm of what I call the “thimble effect”. Left-of-center parties thrive best when the economy is anchored at the kitchen table; think of Labor’s last election victory in 2007 when the economic debate was about workers’ rights.
Even more alarming for the Prime Minister will be the extent to which his attempts to bind Labor to higher household prices also fail. This has been portrayed as a masterstroke by some commentators, and is reminiscent of John Howard’s demolition of Latham Labor by campaigning for confidence to keep interest rates down.
But unlike 2004, voters are already reporting rising gasoline costs for fuel, energy, housing and food, which means the straw man that Labor will drive prices even higher is simply not flying. Given these numbers, the prime minister cannot convince even his own constituency that his government is better qualified to manage budget expenditures.
Which leaves the Prime Minister with his weak meta-narrative, a celebration of âcan capitalismâ as opposed to ânon-governmentâ. As it relies on voter fatigue with public health restrictions promoting an embrace of the laissez-faire economy, the slogan again stands in the way of the facts.
First, people may be tired of the lockdown restrictions, but they still support their state governments and agree with the state administrations far more than the federal government. At every showdown between states, the prime minister has a losing hand.
However, they see a stronger rather than a curtailed role for government as Australia works to rebuild the economy, with nearly two-thirds of voters expecting more, not less, from their government.
Again, the split in voter response should be a warning to the prime minister as even his own voters reject the idea that the bonsai government will meet the challenges of the time.
By creating a struggle between “can do” capitalism and the “don’t do” government, the prime minister has not only presented a false dichotomy, he has paved the way for Labor to come up with an alternative approach to leadership who draws on its own band of strength and history of “Managing the Economy for the Best of Everyday Australians”.
Whitlam modernized the political economy of Australia, ensured equal pay for women, decentralized the government to the regions and recognized China. The Hawke-Keating government reforms not only increased national wealth, but brought Medicare and pensions, long-term structural changes that made the nation more prosperous and equitable. And Rudd-Gillard took advantage of a moment of the global financial crisis to invest in energy efficiency and affordable housing while building the market mechanism that Australia still desperately needs to drive the energy transition that we must have.
There have been periods of deadlock between these Labor governments. Fraser led a cycle of inflation and industrial confrontation. Howard used the GST to increase the tax base for working professionals and then inject the proceeds into tax breaks for those who had already accumulated capital. After three terms in Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison rule, the only real obligation was to consolidate the status quo.
Labor’s political opportunity is to offer something that goes beyond economic stereotypes. The building blocks of this plan are taking shape with previously announced guidelines – expanded childcare and early intervention, charging Tafe, combating wage flatness and a more independent production policy with local industries in everything from vaccines to batteries to electric vehicles.
From these numbers, we know that people want more government, not less: acting like architects rather than plumbers, empowering themselves by growing our own people, supporting safer work, and partnering with corporations to create local industries .
People, jobs, industries. This is an economic agenda that would put Australians at the center of their economic future, not just as numbers in a data set. Labor has a unique opportunity to rebuild an economy that works for its citizens.