Politics, Ice Cream & Gossip Girl: The Five Stages of Abbott Grief

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. No, I’m not a doomsayer and I’m not trying to strike fear in your hearts to get you all campaigning on Election Day (maybe a bit).

The reality is that, by this time next year, “Prime Minister Tony Abbott” is by far the most likely political situation we will find ourselves in.

 The not-quite-inevitability of that statement takes a little while to get your head around, but when it sinks in, denial slowly shifts into despair.

“This can’t be happening!”

Despair transitions into confusion.

“How is this happening?!”

Confusion translates into action.

“I must stop this from happening!”

Action dissolves into acceptance.

“How much is a one-way ticket to Sweden?”

Therein lie the five stages of Abbott Grief. Fortunately, the point of this column isn’t to fill your hearts with despair, or an attempt to secure a job with the Swedish Tourism Board. The point of this column is to examine how and why we got this stage, a stage in Australian political history that seemed unforeseeable not that long ago, and to start the discussion the progressive side of politics needs to have — where to from here?

First things first, there are probably still some people who don’t quite understand what I mean when I talk about the most likely result of this year’s Federal Election — either through a deliberate unwillingness to accept the facts or some misguided notion that the entire political trajectory in this country is manufactured in News Ltd’s offices in Holt St and diligently rolled out by the right-wing quasi-fascist ABC.

Allow me to break it down for you.

Tony Abbott’s Coalition currently holds 73 seats in the House of Representatives. To form majority government, a party needs to win 76 seats.

Once you take out the Speaker (who traditionally comes from the majority party, though this convention has broken down in the current Parliament) things get a bit more complicated, so let’s say that Abbott needs 77 seats to comfortably form government. How does he get there?

There’s been a lot of discussion about Labor being slammed in Western Sydney, due to a combination of factors like the carbon price, asylum seeker policy and the corruption allegations hanging over the heads of numerous senior Labor figures in NSW.

There’s also the Craig Thomson saga and the associated electoral damage linked with that. It’s hard to hold onto an already marginal seat when the sitting member is facing countless criminal charges. But let’s leave all of that aside for a minute and look at the raw numbers.

The two-party-preferred vote at the last election, between Labor and the Coalition, was 50.1 per cent to 49.9 per cent. The average of the last few polls, and indeed for most of 2012, has the Coalition sitting on a two-party-preferred vote of 55.5 per cent to Labor’s 44.5 per cent, representing a swing to the Coalition of 5.6 per cent.

Now, as an example of just how devastating the election could be, let’s factor in some of the statistical errors that can be associated with polling, presume that Labor claws back some ground and suggest conservatively that the swing will be half of what’s currently predicted.

With a 2.8 per cent swing against it, Labor would lose 10 seats, giving Abbott a comfortable majority with 83 members in the House of Representatives. Once you include seats like Craig Thomson’s Dobell and a whole swathe of Western Sydney seats that will experience swings much bigger than the national average, things start to look really depressing.

But the point is that it’s very hard to see any result at this year’s election other than Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

As I said earlier, the point of this column isn’t to depress you, or inflate Sweden’s GDP, it’s to get us all to accept the reality of the situation facing us so we can prepare and plan for it. A lot of people on the Left of politics in Australia will probably think I’m some sort of traitor for acknowledging what we’re up against and not burying my head in the sand.

The reason for this wake-up call is to get it into the heads of as many people as possible that the current strategy isn’t working.

The strategy of shifting Labor to the Right on almost every single issue, the strategy that sees Julia Gillard refusing to support equal marriage, the strategy that sees the Labor Party have even more draconian policies on asylum seekers than the Howard government did. The strategy of doing all that and then hoping that 50.1 per cent of people vote for you, because you won’t be “as bad as Tony Abbott”.

I’m happy to acknowledge all of the positive things the Labor Party has achieved in this term of government. The response I usually get from people in Labor when I lay out just how far to the Right they’ve shifted are examples like the carbon price, increasing university funding and creating Denticare. All worthwhile policies, but the point isn’t to convince people on your own side of the good things you’ve done, it’s to convince the public that you’re the kind of political party that stands up for them.

Frankly, the Labor government is doing a terrible job of it. So, if your current strategy isn’t working, what do you lose from reclaiming some of your core values of social justice and equality, and standing for something more than “we’re better than Tony Abbott”?

Labor strategists and campaigners need to start owning up to the fact their decisions and policies have alienated huge amounts of their base and created the legitimacy that Abbott always craved on issues like asylum seekers.

If they don’t acknowledge that, and respond to it, then it will be herrings and vodka for the next three years.

See you in Stockholm.

Osman Faruqi