Yesterday the Prime Minister delivered a blistering speech to the parliament which has roused the spirit of her supporters. It was a scintillating attack on the Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott and has rightfully been described as one of the greatest speeches of her career. It has also been described in some corners as a turning point in the government’s fortunes, this is less accurate.
Rallying the troops is a very different thing to endearing yourself to swinging voters. Mark Latham was very good at rousing the Labor base with his parliamentary bellowing but it didn’t make him easier to vote for. Similarly one speech, however powerful, might allow you to frame voters mindsets in the immediate term, but with time the emotional charge will recede and with it the impact of the speech. When Gough Whitlam stood on the steps of old parliament house on November 11 1975 his emotional oratory doubtless struck a chord with millions nationwide but despite his plea they did not maintain their rage for five weeks. Instead the emotional charge waned and they voted on issues like the economy, national security and taxation. Another example might be John Howard’s 2001 election campaign launch where his famous “We will decide who comes in and the circumstances in which they come” tickled the nationalist bones of millions. In the immediately following Newspoll Howard clocked a handsome ten point lead but when voters went to the polls three weeks later this evaporated into a slender two point margin.
Prime Minister Gillard’s speech did not introduce any particularly new arguments into the political sphere which is why it’s odd that it might be expected to shift votes. Several of the quotes Prime Minister Gillard referred to were actually used in government advertisements in 2010. People know Abbott has made right wing comments about gender relations in the past and the impact of these would already be built into the current opinion polling. Tony Abbott’s allusion to Alan Jones’ die of shame remark, on the other hand, might have some impact. Having heard his remark, some voters who believed Abbott to conduct himself with a tolerable level of decency might reconsider this view, but not because of anything much the Prime Minister said.