Tomorrow Australia will vote on whether to give Kevin Rudd a promotion or to keep John Howard in the job. I have never felt so confused about an election. Not that I am undecided, I have no doubts about my own convictions, but I’ve no idea who will win.
All the polls have consistently predicted a huge Labor win, but when it comes down to the seat-by-seat wins necessary it doesn’t seem clear at all. There have been plenty of Melbourne Cups where the favourite hasn’t seemed even in contention on the day.
I’ve come to accept that I have a very limited understanding of the Australian people. I never understood how Howard came to govern in the first place let alone how he’s managed to stay there. He has long appeared to me a person of poor character, someone who has white-anted his way to the top then ruled with an iron fist, a brutal agent of his own self-interest. Yet apparently most Australians see him as a wise leader, sturdy, dependable, good for the country. Clearly I am very wrong.
Nor do I hold to the view that he has managed the economy well, if anything I believe we have been disastrously led. Private debt has sky-rocketed; the labour market has been radically fractured and destabilised; asset inflation has run rampant warping investment direction and driving financial circularity rather than building future growth and sustainability in the economy; the resources boom has been squandered just as it has saved us from otherwise mediocre performance.
Rather than seeing the country as in an economically good position I see it as precarious. With record low unemployment, interest rates and inflation; asset values rising as if there were no limit, and all around us wealth and prosperity? It’s the undertow beneath the sparkling water we need to look for. Whoever wins is going to have to tackle global instability and recession. Which is why the sudden change of tack in the election campaign does have some bite. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s all about to go down the toilet.
And I see just as many people ‘relaxed and comfortable’ for whom it truly is ‘all good’ as I see those obviously straining, stressed, fearful, alienated. Australians now work harder, accept greater burdens without question, are more cynical, stressed, and afraid to admit their concerns, their fears and insecurities. Yet seem muted. And I don’t understand the dichotomy. Is it a quixotic dream?
I so want John Howard and every miserable bastard on his front bench thrown out of office. I believe the Howard era will come to be seen as a time of lost opportunities, of pig headed, scandalous waste. But a hatred of Howard doesn’t automatically flow to a love affair with labour.
As a technocrat, an ambitious manager, Rudd embodies a politics of corporate culture. Not a change of government so much as a restructure and the promotion of a new CEO, a minimal impact choice. There are important differences of methodology rather than ideology. Even so the promise is that within the framework of steady as she goes, some things will be acted on, some better outcomes will be achieved. I want to believe it will be different I’m prepared to overlook the similarities. But it doesn’t feel like a fresh wind of change. I don’t even get the feeling that many people like him. They just don’t like the other guy more.
At times through this election I have had the sense that many people are yearning for the opportunity to vote, to tell someone what they really think. And I have a sense that they really care, even if they are only muttering under their breath. The trouble is I still don’t know which way they’ll go.