Thursday, November 25, 2010

You and I

There's something fitting about the fact that, on the morning before the election, the Liberal Party have a large ad on the front page of 'The Age' newspaper featuring a piece of rotten fruit.

No doubt they mean it to represent the Labor Government (or maybe, I thought in a moment of half awake delirium, John Brumby's brain) but it would be more appropriate to stand as a metaphor for the previous five weeks of desultory campaigning. What we've been given in Victoria, across the course of this election run up, has been a contest between 'More of the Same' and 'Doing Things Similar.' A sham choice really, between two political 'parties' that long ago abandoned ideoglogy and are more or less in agreement about how the business of government should be conducted.

For an example of this, we can return to the rotten fruit ad. Alongside the picture is a list of issues that the Liberals are claiming the Labor Government has mishandled during their time in office. There is no mention in the ad as to what the Liberal Party would do to correct these problems if we make Big Ted Premier and there's a reason for this: With the exception of the 'law and order' stuff, they have none. The list then, followed by a summary of what the Liberals would do in each policy area:

* UNSAFE STREETS: (Loudly) Longer sentences, more police, bigger jails!!!!!

* PUBLIC TRANSPORT MESS: (Quietly) 7... ahem... 7 new trains. Ummm, have people been watching the Ashes?.

* MYKI FIASCO: Keep it in exactly it's current form with no changes whatsoever.


* TRAFFIC GRIDLOCK: This is also bad. But, you know, we're buying 7 new trains... And The Ashes! What about that Peter Siddle! He's Victorian, you know.

* HEALTH & AMBULANCE CRISIS: ........... (crickets chirping)...........

As a political manifesto for change, you might feel that this list is a bit lacklustre. I mean, say what you want about Jeff Kennett, but at least he floated a few ideas about how he'd do things differently if we were foolish enough to elect him:

Sack Everyone! Kill everyone else! Poison the wells! Scorch the earth!

And he even delivered on those promises.

But his successors in the Liberal Party have failed to really articulate much of a case for change this time around. They have clung to the hope that the public were sick of Labor after 11 years and would turf them out without them, the Liberals, having to do very much. Just smile and nod, roll some lawn bowls, roll up the shirt sleeves, avoid saying anything much about anything and hope to sneak in on the back of voter dislike of the other mob.

And on one level, it's hard to blame them for this. After all, the same tactic worked for Rudd in 2007 and Bracksy in 1999 and Howard in 1996. The old adage about Opposition's not winning elections but Government's losing them.

But even if this is so, that doesn't mean we can't whinge about it. For the biggest loser in all of this cynical, small target, do nothin' politickin' is you and I. By which I mean, us! An ineffective, risk adverse, policy-lite Opposition simply means that the Government does not get held properly to account and so does not need to improve in areas where it's performance has been poor.

Imagine, as one example, that the Liberal Party in 2006 had gone to the polls with a policy to roll back Labor's broken promise on the Eastlink Freeway, and make it free to use as it was initially intended. Such a policy would have had one of two outcomes:

a) Labor would have been forced to match this policy. Or,

b) The Liberals would have been elected and would have enacted their policy.

The result, in either case, would be a free road for us to use. So the winners, whether Labor or Liberal won the election, would have been you and I. By which I mean, us!

Come to think of it, Big Ted was the Liberal leader then too, so I guess it's no surprise that a different policy from Labor was just a bit too hard, a bit too radical, a bit too alien for him to try. But if you take the example of the road toll issue above and then apply it to public transport, health, planning or whatever you like from this current campaign then it's not a long stretch to see that a properly functioning Opposition, putting forward some new policies of their own and opposing the Governments bad ones, delivers better functioning services for the community at large.

And so the ultimate loser from Big Ted's insipid performance in this election campaign, much more than the Liberal Party, is you and I. By which I mean... well, you get the idea.

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