The ALP can still win this election, and the way to do it is to take a leaf out of John Howard’s book.
That leaf is cunningly shifting concerns about your honesty into concerns about what the hell this crazy opposition leader might do. The trick Howard pulled before the 2004 election, when even his own party was calling him a “lying rodent”, was to audaciously turn that around by making the word “trust” not about his general dishonesty and “non-core promises” and shiftiness, but about the fear people had that Latham might be a bit of a loose cannon as PM.
Same thing applies to Abbott. It’s clear from polling that even those voters who don’t like Gillard don’t like Abbott much either – and the reason for that is that their gut tells them not to trust him.
Which is why hammering the “fast one” he’s trying to pull will resonate. Tony Abbott is trying to pull a fast one.
What is this “fast one”? You know already. It’s that he’s trying to trick voters into thinking he can cut taxes, reduce revenue, whilst not creating a huge deficit, and not cutting any services voters care about either. Which, when you stop to think about it, is not just too good to be true, but absurdly so. And isn’t the thought that he thinks you’ll buy it more than a little insulting? He thinks you’re an idiot!
And you can’t console yourself that maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe he’ll just cut stuff you don’t care about – because if that were the case, he’d come out and say it! If he’s trying to keep it quiet, it’s pretty obvious why. Because it IS the stuff you care about.
Once you’ve thought about it, it’s impossible to miss. You can’t help but notice every time you see him. Every interview Tony does, every speech he gives, he dodges the critical question about what he’ll slash to pay for his promises. Every TV appearance he refuses to specify the slashes to public services that he must be planning to engage in to balance the budget.
And every press conference he physically flees to avoid the questions gives the ALP fresh material for a devastating montage of Tony Abbott running away from scrutiny like a gutless wuss (particularly combined with that footage of Abbott scrambling to the House of Representatives exit with the “gazelle-like” Pyne), which also conveniently neutralises the “strong bloke” image he’s been attempting to cultivate.
Make him confront the same problem that confronted Gillard in 2010 – that everybody strongly suspects he’d do what he’s trying to avoid admitting he’d do. Make it impossible for him to get over the line without nailing his colours to the mast and making some promises that would haunt him in government.
“Tony Abbott is trying to pull a fast one.” It will resonate because it’s true, and because it’s what people actually fear about him anyway. Give a name to their fears, and make it not matter that the media cover up for him – because every evasion reinforces that he is, indeed, trying to pull a fast one.
ALP MPs need to dismiss the crap about Craig Thomson (the response is: Thomson is not an ALP candidate, and he’ll be out at the next election – what will actually affect voters is whether Tony Abbott gets to pull a fast one or not) and ALP MPs resigning (when should they retire? After they’ve committed to another term?). Point out that these are questions about the past, and the big question is what could follow the 2013 election if Tony’s shifty gang slips over the line into government. How confident can you be that you won’t be the victim of his cuts when he doesn’t want you to know what they are?
Tony Abbott is trying to pull a fast one. Remind everyone you know.
PS Another phrase we should hear a lot of: “just like Campbell Newman has done in Queensland”.