21/03/2012 - 10:51

Hint of Thatcher in PM’s performances

21/03/2012 - 10:51


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Can an image makeover for the PM save Labor at the next election?

Can an image makeover for the PM save Labor at the next election?

NOW that Julia Gillard has demonstrated to Kevin Rudd and his 30 backers in caucus that she, not he, should be Labor leader, stage one is over.

What of stage two?

Interestingly, Australian voters can now expect to be presented with ‘real Julia II’ during the next 18 months.

Remember that ‘real Julia I’ was a hurriedly concocted persona for the 2010 election campaign because of a lack of traction in the electorate.

Unlike that flop, real Julia II will be a Canberra-manufactured variant based firmly on the style and mannerisms of former British Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher.

Ms Gillard is thus to be an Aussie Iron Lady, since Mrs Thatcher was the UK’s longest serving 20th century prime minister.

The intention is to repeat, and hopefully surpass, that enviable record Down Under.

Unlike Julia I, who was seen as a short-term fix to get over an election, real Julia II has been devised to thoroughly remould Ms Gillard into a more than decade-long leader from the left.

Who could have cooked up such a bizarre modelling of a Welsh-born long-time leftist on an English-born conservative?

According to my sources the primary, but not sole, architect of real Julia II is someone who spent time in Number 10 Downing Street; but not during Mrs Thatcher’s tenure.

He’s London-born journalist John McTernan, who served on Tony Blair’s staff.

It’s important to keep in mind that Mr Blair was PM for nearly 10 years (1997-2007) whereas Mrs Thatcher reached 11 years (1979-1990).

Even so, nearly 10 years is also a good showing.

Equally important, Blair and his one-time ally and successor, Gordon Brown, deliberately modelled British Labour on some aspects of Thatcherism.

That’s why they went into their first election campaign as New Labour.

In other words they’d discarded the post-Hugh Gaitskell badge of socialism that Mrs Thatcher so discredited during her prime ministerial terms.

She was thus quietly admired, looked up to, across New Labour’s upper gentrified echelons among which Mr McTernan would mix during his Blair years.

What Mr McTernan is therefore attempting to do by remoulding Ms Gillard into a Thatcher clone is to apply what he’d learned at Number 10.

It’s as simple as that.

Australian voters will thus be fed a tried and tested refashioning of a political figure that, to an extent, worked for Mr Blair.

Blairism featured a soft leftist refashioning of Thatcherism, whereby certain outcomes of the Thatcher years, like privatisation, were left largely untouched.

That’s somewhat similar to the way Kevin Rudd went into the 2007 election, presenting himself as a younger, more vibrant, and slicker version of John Howard.

Mr Rudd, however, very quickly went pear-shaped, which is why Liberal Party national director Brian Loughnane could launch those snappy ‘Kevin O’Lemon’ TV clips that so promptly sparked the Rudd coup d’état Ms Gillard profited from on the night of June 23 2010.

But it wasn’t until September 2011 – a year after Labor managed to narrowly hold power – that Mr McTernan was hired to be Ms Gillard’s communications guru.

And the reason was that the new Julia Gillard-Wayne Swan leadership team – that emerged from within the incompetent spendthrift Rudd ‘kitchen cabinet’ – was shaping up to being a re-run of Labor’s 2007-2010 years.

To put it bluntly, they were treading the same inept path. Their media advisers realised this and knew something needed to be done, and fast, otherwise defeat was assured at election 2013.

For those not familiar with the word ‘ineptocracy’, which so aptly describes the Rudd-Gillard years, here’s a definition provided by the Online Slang Dictionary: “Ineptocracy is a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.”

Ineptocracy is precisely what Messrs Rudd and Swan and Ms Gillard so cherished and imposed after 2007, and which has continued since 2010 with the instituting of ever higher taxing, boosting size of a centralist bureaucracy, and legislating for ever more regulations and controls on business (including, especially, the press) and enterprise.

But, with the right media spin and presentation of their leader, there’s a strong chance voters can be convinced into believing they’re getting something resembling a competent government.

That’s where Mr McTernan steps in, since he’d mixed with London leftists who secretly admired Mrs Thatcher’s successes, if not all her policies.

Actually being in Number 10 when Blairism emulated Thatcherism was certainly helpful.

Surely this could be repeated elsewhere, including Australia, which is why Ms Gillard is a suitable guinea pig for this PR experiment.

That explains why she no longer speaks with her former “robot-like voice”, as one Sydney columnist described her enunciation.

She’s also being deliberately power-dressed. And she’s been told to answer questions, at fewer scheduled press conferences, with a clipped and briefer response style.

The question still to be answered is whether the new real Julia II will resonate with the public over the next 18 months.

Although it’s too early to say, the odds must be set at 50-50.

The reason for saying this is that despite the latest Newspoll showing Labor slipping from 35 to 31 points in the primary vote, Ms Gillard’s satisfaction rating rose slightly, from 26 to 28, despite her failing to lift Labor.

Furthermore, in the ‘better PM’ stakes she went from 36 to 39, versus Tony Abbott’s slip from 38 to 37.

True, it’s early days and one swallow does not a summer make.

However, when Ms Gillard’s own approval rating rises despite her party’s fall, it’s a welcome spark of good news.

Was this perhaps due to Mr McTernan’s refashioning of her image?

Let’s wait and see.

However, while awaiting the evidence keep in mind the following pivotal point.

Margaret Thatcher of 1979-1900 slashed the size of intrusive government, lowered taxes, and deregulated economic life, whereas the real Julia I and II believes in and is doing the exact opposite. 

When voters have twigged that the McTernan-devised image and reality are contradictory, they’ll decide accordingly.

The challenge ahead for Mr Abbott and his deputy, Julie Bishop, is to bring this disparity to the fore, show that Rudd-Gillard-Swan ineptocracy is flourishing alongside the real Julia II image.

Are they up to it? Bob Menzies certainly was.



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