Look, I’ll be handing out how-to-votes tomorrow and as the results come in I’ll be drinking beers and laughing if things go as the polls say they might. If Howard loses his seat it will make my year.
But today the ultra-leftist devil hovering over my shoulder is cackling away and the social democratic angel above my right is maintaining an embarrassed silence. First, there’s the editorial in the Australian reassuring its faithful that “A contest between worthy opponents ensures that whoever wins, Australia will be in good hands.”
Then there’s Rudd as Cartman: “Recognahz mah mandate!”
In an interview with the Herald, Mr Rudd promised to make fighting inflation central to a Labor government’s economic policy, describing rising prices as a cancer for ordinary families and the economy as a whole.
He said Labor would require all federal public sector wage deals with unions to match pay rises to productivity, and he would expect state governments to adopt the same approach.
As the latest opinion polls put Labor in a strong election-winning position, Mr Rudd took a combative tone on questions about how he would deal with pressure from Labor’s Left or the unions to change direction if the party won government. He indicated he would not hesitate to discipline dissenters.
“If I am elected I will govern in the national interest and not in any sectional interest,” he said.
“If that means we are going to have significant disagreements with individual trade unions in the future I couldn’t care less. That’s what will happen.
“In the last six months or so we have had periodic disagreements which resulted in the expulsion of a number of people from the party. If that were needed in the future I would do the same.”
The angel can’t even bring himself to quote Peter Hartcher in the Herald this morning, whose argument that “it would be a mistake to think tomorrow’s poll presents a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum” is so signally unconvincing that some wag of a subeditor dared headline it with the 1980s Pepsi slogan – ‘Taste the difference’. Hartcher doesn’t even seem to believe himself, despite the ritual incantation:
Certainly, there is a great deal of convergence. This is a natural condition in a successful, stable developed country. And Australia, proportionally, is one of the most middle-class countries, so it’s no surprise that both major political parties should compete for the middle ground.
Kevin Rudd’s greatest compliment to John Howard is that he is seeking to continue perhaps 90 per cent of Howard Government policies….
So what are the real differences? It is untrue that the parties are barely distinguishable.
Rudd is offering Australians a low-risk alternative government that essentially offers the status quo minus the least palatable bits – Work Choices, the war in Iraq and the person of Howard himself.
But Rudd Labor is offering some policy extras. These are an “education revolution”, the promise of an action plan for dealing with global warming, a plan for a federal takeover of public hospitals, proposals for new tax rebates for education, and a national broadband plan.
The Coalition has responded to each of these – “me too” – with a policy variation of its own. None is a carbon copy, yet they seek to fill the same policy space….
They do converge on a great deal – in the words of the online satirist Hugh Atkin, Rudd proceeds according to the “clever principle of similar difference”.
But in the areas of difference, in the space between the parties’ offerings, there is enough to define two distinct Australias of the future.
Anyway, tomorrow’s my first federal election in Australia. I hear they put on a good show. I had never heard the term ‘psephology’ until I got here, and no-one does electioneering like Australians: half the effort happens on election day itself as party volunteers campaign along the polling queues. They have raised it to a science, the bookies calculate the odds, and this adorable geek called Anthony Green gets on the ABC to talk about the marginals, uniform swings, indicative preference counts, and so on. I’ve been invited to no fewer than ten election night parties. Should be quite a spectacle.