Abbott and Beazley

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The four men pictured above are all former or current leaders of the Australian federal parliamentary opposition. Some pundits have compared the man on the far left with the man on the far right (no joke intended) and suggested Abbott might face a similar last minute collapse in support like Beazley did in 2001.  I find comparisons between Beazley and Abbott to be misleading and poorly applied.

Beazley is more like Brendan Nelson than Abbott. True Beazley opposed the GST and Workchoices but his campaign modus operandi was not of radical negativity but of inoffensive moderation. For Nelson and Beazley it wasn’t so much about denigrating the government as preventing a tolerable image for the opposition and just waiting for the government to run out of steam. Both would have been electable against unpopular governments but faced governments in reasonably strong positions and so were consigned to the scrapheap. They were genuinely small target opposition leaders.

By contrast Abbott, like Latham is an enormous target despite promising little in the way of policy alternatives. Both like to think of themselves as powerful Alpha Males and seek out aggressive confrontation with the government. They shout and they thump desks and they decry the government’s incompetence but then offer a limited amount by way of alternative policy. Revisionists have argued that Latham’s policies on forests and the Iraq war was what cost him but I reckon that’s a load of rubbish. Latham exuded risk; he came across as erratic and made John Howard seem like a safe set of hands. Abbott had a similar problem, coming across as unpredictable next to Rudd’s calm, reassuring style but whereas Howard called Latham’s bluff, Shorten et al capitulated and conceded fault at the hands of Abbott’s barrage of negativity.

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Abbott came across as wayward when contrasted with Kevin Rudd, but not Julia Gillard

Like Latham, Abbott contested an election against an unpopular and mistrusted Prime Minister but lost because of his perceived unreliability. If Rudd had remained as leader Abbott likely would have lost the 2010 election by similar margins to those which Latham lost by in 2004, but Julia Gillard had none of the proven reliability of a Rudd or a Howard.

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