Jul 7, 2016

Labor brand is still toxic despite Malcolm Turnbull troubles | Herald Sun

ONE lesson from the election is that Malcolm Turnbull is a dud. But perhaps the more important lesson is that the Labor brand is absolutely toxic.

In an election where people deserted the “Turnbull Titanic” in droves, they did not flock straight to Bill Shorten and what might be described as the melting Labor iceberg.

Despite Shorten’s beaming face and exuberant claims of success, he succeeded in lifting Labor’s primary vote from its lowest-ever level in 2013 to its second lowest-ever level in 2016.

In 2013, just one-in-three voters — 33.4 per cent, to be precise — ticked Julia Gillard’s Labor first. Just let that sink in: two in three voted first for anyone but Labor.

As of last night, the first preference vote for Shorten’s Labor was running at all of 35.4 per cent; and the way postals tend to favour the Coalition that percentage will probably finish lower.

There will end up being very little advance on the depths of 2013. To all intents and purposes two in three voters will have still have ticked first anyone but Shorten and Labor.

Shorten’s first preference number will be significantly less than the 38 per cent Gillard scored in her 2010 dead-heat election and the levels that Labor scored when John Howard was at his most ascendant in 2001, thanks to 9/11 and the Tampa; and in 2004, thanks to Mark Latham’s handshake.

To make a further point that does not seem to have penetrated the collective “intelligence” of the Canberra press gallery: Shorten came very close to becoming prime minister with barely one in three voters actually ticking their first preference for that outcome.

This would have been thanks to our preferential voting system which essentially forces all voters — with the odd exception — to vote for either Labor or the Coalition, whatever their real preferences are; after of course forcing them to vote in the first place.

Such an outcome — a Labor victory on just on 35 per cent of the first preference vote — would nevertheless have been extraordinary and on a par with the outcomes we see in multi-cornered elections in Britain under the first-past-the-post system.

Indeed, just a year ago the soon-to-be-departed David Cameron won a landslide victory with just 37 per cent of the vote. Thanks to UKIP and, even more, the Scottish Nationals.

Let’s put the Labor vote in its broader election context to well and truly bury the myth that the election was a resounding endorsement of either Shorten of Labor.

Turnbull ran an utterly abysmal campaign — as I suggested he would, when I wrote in April, that he was quite simply a dud.

He let Labor get off scot free on the big issues that had been so crucial to Tony Abbott’s landslide success in 2013 — in particular, the three dozen-plus of his team prepared to set the boats sailing again; and Shorten himself promising to bring back a carbon tax.

There was one absolutely golden advertisement that we should have seen five times a day, every day, and we didn’t see it even once. Shorten and Gillard both saying almost word-for-word that ... “there would be no carbon tax under a government I lead”.

Let’s assume the truth of the claim that Shorten had a brilliant campaign. Let’s assume that “Mediscare” sent voters flocking to Labor’s protective side — and yet, after all that Shorten only succeeded in lifting Labor’s primary vote by less than 2 per cent from its previous abysmal all-time low.

Now, political duds come and go. This one will be no different.

Yes, it is now clear that he will hang on to the prime ministership; he’ll win enough seats to cobble together the necessary 76 votes. And the lemmings he almost led over the cliff, otherwise known as his parliamentary colleagues, are too hapless, too lacking in both backbone and foresight, to force him out now.

But he will go; the only uncertainty is the timing and the circumstances. He is just too inept. His successor might also be a dud — often, you get a run of duds, But then, he could be a Howard.

A toxic brand is an altogether more fundamentally existential problem. In the 1990s, the rise of the Greens, took Labor below 40 per cent on first preferences, but it held in the high 30s through the darkest days of the early 2000s and then the Gillard years.

The fact that it hasn’t managed to scrape back above 35 per cent in what is claimed to be a very favourable political environment should be extremely worrying to those in Labor who can think strategically.

Before moving to bury the other great myth that has emerged from this election, let me note the truly extraordinary success of Kevin Rudd in 2007. And which makes even more bizarre the decision of the party to dump him in 2010 over polls that showed him still a winner.

Surrounded by elections both before and after where Labor could not get out of the 30s, Rudd got Labor’s primary vote up to 43.4 per cent in 2007 — at a time when the economy was actually going gangbusters for Howard and his treasurer, Peter Costello.

That was the highest it had been since 1993, when Paul Keating sneaked back with 44.9 per cent of the primary vote, before the Greens had come along to snatch away Labor’s “Chardonnay socialists”.

This leads us to the second great myth of this election: that voters are so disenchanted with the major parties that they flocked to all ‘the thirds’.

No, they just didn’t. Some 77 per cent still voted for either of the two majors — Labor or the Coalition. And if you add in the Greens as a now permanent blight/fixture, the total goes to 87 per cent.

Even just sticking with the lower number; yes, the 23 per cent voting for ‘the thirds’ was up on 2013, but only up from 21 per cent.

Yes again, this has been rising steadily — from 18.4 per cent in 2010 and just 14.6 per cent in the Rudd swoon year 2007.

But we’ve been up at these levels before. In 2001, some 19.2 per cent voted for “the thirds” and, in 1998, it was 20.4 per cent.

Considering that the preference system gives every single voter the opportunity of a “free kick” to well and truly, well, kick the major parties, it is actually extraordinary that some eight in 10 are still giving them their first preference.


YES of course the Brexit vote is a “traumatic market event”. Both in its own right and in the context of the world as it is in July 2016.

But as I have been arguing it is important to understand it is not anything remotely like the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

That directly triggered real losses running into the hundreds of billions of dollars, right around the world.

Brexit only triggered valuation losses — and then, only the loss of some of the profits built by the rise and rise of share markets thanks to the major central banks.

Yes again, it causes particular issues for the British economy, its markets and its banks — and sends reverberations across the channel into Europe.

It could lead to an even bigger traumatic event — departures from the euro itself.

The two key things to watch are central banks overreacting to Brexit; and that in turn, setting markets up for an even bigger ultimate bust.

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