Monday, July 26, 2010
After the success of Channel 10's 'Hawke' telemovie from last week, it was probably no surprise to see the Silver Bodgie back on the campaign trail. Although keeping the former PM out of the action may well have proved impossible, given the blokes enthusiasm for the limelight: 'Elections really get the juices flowing,' Hawke was quoted as saying with relish, while campaigning in Melbourne last week (and also quoted as saying 'I like your English' when some punter called him a fucking legend).
What was surprising (and a little disappointing) was that Hawke didn't get out the powder blue lounge suit and white shoes, as he did during Campaign 2007:
Putting that disappointment aside though, this underlines something quite unique about the man himself; With the exception of Hawke, the Australian public never has much love for ex Prime Ministers. I mean, can you imagine any of John Howard, Paul Keating or Malcolm Fraser (our other surviving ex PMs) hitting the campaign trail for their respective parties this time around? Anywhere? For any reason? The current batch of candidates all avoid these ex leaders like the plague. And hell, Malcolm Fraser has disowned the Liberals and cancelled his party membership anyway and is probably more likely to doorknock for the Greens than any of Tony Abbott's bunch.
On the other hand, Hawke is probably more popular than he was when Keating ousted him. I mean, now that he doesn't have to worry about upsetting the squares out in the marginal seats he can have a drink and a punt and pinch the odd girl on the bum ('Look at all these beautiful women,' was another choice quote from his day campaigning) and that stuff always goes over well with the mob.
The other thing that was significant about Hawke's campaign appearance was where the Labor Party strategists had him appear; the marginal inner Melbourne seat of Deakin, held by backbeancher Mike Symon on a slim margin of 1.4% What this tells us about the election is:
a) Where the campaign will be won and lost and;
b) What your vote is worth.
And the answers to these questions are, in order:
a) In the marginal seats and;
To summarise the above then, starting with the marginals.
There are 150 seats in the House of Representatives, where Government is formed, and the Australian Electoral Commission defines any of them held by a margin of less than 6% a marginal seat. There are 57 of these at this election, or about 38% of total seats. The Liberal Party needs a net gain of 17 seats from the ALP in order to win Government, so guess which ones they're going to concentrate on? That's right! The ones with the smallest margins! It's no wonder they call it political science, because rocket science it ain't.
In any case, this is where you come in. Unless you live in one of these marginal seats, the 62% of people that don't in other words, you're in a safe seat and that means that whichever major party you belong too can afford to take you for granted. Or, on the flipside, can't afford to spend their scarce electoral resources trying to gain a seat they'll almost certainly lose. And so the whole thing can become a bit like a perpetual motion machine in theses safe seats. Neither party really bothers contesting them very vigorously and so the people that live there have little reason to change their voting intentions. The simple truth is that most of the seats in most of the country don't come within cooee of changing hands election after election, year after year, generation after generation.
So to summarise the summary of the summary then, a handful of marginal seats decide each election and the majority of people who live elsewhere can suck up to their local member or just fuck off.
And what this means is that the marginal seats become like black holes, exhorting enormous gravitational influence over major party leadership, time and money. To return to Deakin for a moment, as well as RJ Hawke's visit, already in this week old campaign they've had visits from Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop and Peter Garrett. Julia Gillard will be there sometime this week and will undoubtedly promise to build a new school, or hospital or rail link or whatever the focus groups are telling her the Deakinites want... Then Tony Abott will come back the week after and promise a larger, spiffier and yet cheaper schoolhospitalraillink... Then Julia will come back the week after that and promise everyone a free hot water system and a new car and maybe their OWN PRIVATE SCHOOLHOSPITALRAILINK!!! And then Tony will come back and tell people that they'd already have all of those things if the Labor Party hadn't let so many filthy boat people in to steal all of our schoolhospitalraillinks... and so on, until voting day.
And so it'll go across all of the marginal seats in the country, as the leaders sweep through every couple of days and the actual candidates themselves stalk each other like rabid dogs who have learned how to drive. I've lived in a marginal seat before and if you think the bombardment of campaign ads and propaganda is bad elsewhere, you have no idea what the marginalites are in for. They get the same number of TV and radio ads, but they'll also get personalised auto dialled campaign telephone messages and so much mail box dropped leafleture that they're in danger of disappearing under it all, like De Niro at the end of 'Brazil.'
And this while the safe-seatites wnder why the local members office is shut 328 days of the year.
And so, to summarise the summary of the summary of the summary, the Australian electoral process is a bit skew-iff.