That Was Awkward – For Labor

So Labor lost. It was not a landslide, but it certainly ruined the party. Of course there were many reasons for the result, but they are only interesting after the central fact is acknowledged: The Conservative Party won, and Labor lost. So we need to celebrate the win for democracy, and respect the decision of our fellow citizens.

It is worth speculating on the reasons for the loss. There was an excellent article in The Conversation during the week, which explained that most people, if given a choice between a small ‘win’ in the near future, and a larger ‘win’ at a time in the distant future, will mainly choose the smaller benefit because it is nearer, and surer. This is short-sighted, but if our fellow citizens are prone to short-sightedness, then perhaps the Labor Party should consider behavioural economics next time it produces a range of policies.

Another reason was that people care about survival this winter more than they care about existential threats to our future twenty years out. This is why climate change is not yet ready to outweigh jobs and electricity prices, until climate change is so advanced that it is ‘in our faces and inescapable’. It actually replicates the theory of the economic behaviourists, cited above.

The third reason as to why Labour lost is that Scott Morrison, sneered at as a ‘marketing man’, did exactly that. He marketed his message, and he cut through. People heard him. It was simple, sloganised, often misleading, but when is marketing not? The old time lawyers called it “mere puffery”, but it works.

Please consider the final reason: Bill Shorten. I kept searching for the spark which had taken him so far in political life. He was leader of the opposition for six years, he was trained in the law, worked as a barrister, led unions and unionists, so he must have it, that ability to lead, to inspire, that indefinable aura known as charisma, or why would anyone follow him?

As I said, I searched for it. Every time he spoke I strained to hear a natural sentence, spoken with commitment, convincing me of why Labor should form the next government. I was driven to form strange theories, the most bizarre being that he had studied Josh Frydenburg’s almost hypnotic ability to stay on message, without inflection or reflection. But Josh manages to at least utter sentences where there is sometimes emphasis, or a change of tone.

Bill Shorten is the worst public speaker I have ever heard, or seen. My family has voted Labor since Federation, so I willed him to be interesting, every day. I cannot hold it against him, because you have it, or you don’t. Every time he spoke I imagined him, sitting in a back room, making deals, laughing and confident, the consummate networker. But this secret gift, if he possesses it, never won anyone an election.

He also has a habit of looking away when people approach him closely. He might be shy, or reserved, but he does not publicly engage with others. The recent death of Bob Hawke reminded us all of why human warmth is so valued. I have never met Bill Shorten, and he may be the most engaging of companions in private, but for the life of me I do not understand why Labor entrusted him with leadership, when he was so ill-equipped to connect with the Australian people.

Anthony Albanese has it. Perhaps he can re-invigorate us all, and stop that feeling of Nooooo, not again.

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