Policy narratives and Michael Cooney

I was taken by Per Capita policy director Michael Cooney’s observations on the political narrative of the Rudd Government and Rudd’s recent speech to the Sydney Institute. The reformist centrism that Federal Labor has embraced under Rudd promises to pose a real challenge to the Coalition moving forwards, assuming that the government continues on its present generally upbeat course for a while yet. Cooney summarises the problems facing the Liberal and National parties as follows:

And the challenge for conservatives is enormous. The conservative populist criticism of Rudd is two-fold: that the Government is dealing alternately in symbolism (they say: Kyoto, the apology) and trivia (they say: petrol prices, grocery bills).

This already fails on two grounds. First, the symbolism is positive, and has public support, while the opposition to it is inherently backward looking. Second, what they say is trivia is at the heart of everyday life in middle Australia.

While the symbolism remains positive and unifying rather than dividing, and the government continues to view the so-called “trivia” of people’s everyday lives as an important issue, one would have to think that the Opposition is going to really struggle to make an impact. Much does depend on the Budget, and whether or not the likes of Turnbull and Nelson can manage to make some valid criticisms of what Federal Labor ends up bringing to the table. Realistically speaking, there should be some scope for this, given that the government has made some sizable spending commitments and yet professes to be deeply concerned about inflation. However, whether or not the public adopts any concerns raised by the Opposition as their own remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the Rudd Government has in its short time in office already carved out a policy narrative (as Cooney has summarised so succinctly) for itself. Unfortunately for conservative voters and adherents of the Liberal and National parties, I don’t think at this stage we can say the same for the Nelson Opposition. We still don’t really have a good feeling for what they are all about post-Howard. The reason for this, of course, is that they collectively don’t really know yet either.