February 27, 2007


The tactical game of politics is attractive and repulsive in equal measures. Well, for me anyway - I suspect most people find it more on the repulsive side of the scale. But acquiring a taste for the more technical aspects of political activity means that you can generate a whole new set of theories about why things happen.

For example, the splendid piece of opportunism that has seen Maxine McKew pitted against John Howard on his doorstep. This, to me, is a prime bit of political manoeuvering. My suspicion is that this is as much about tying Howard down, clipping his campaign wings, as it is about trying to win Bennelong. McKew is a high-profile enough candidate in a marginal-enough seat to mean that Howard must put at least some effort in to holding on to his own electorate. And the more time he has to spend tending the home fires the less time he has to fight the national campaign. In short, I think the ALP's trying a distraction trick - he now has to fight both locally and nationally, and the ALP will be hoping to capitalise on his divided energies.

This leads me to think that we can expect the national campaign in microcosm in Bennelong. Howard is not a fox, he's a hedghog with a nose for the quick win - he tends to stick to one or two big ideas and look for ways to exploit them. So the Bennelong issues will be the national issues, and I wouldn't expect Howard to run a Bennelong Special. Ideally for the Liberals, you'd want a boatload of refugees looking to land somewhere on Lane Cove River.

The interesting thing is that the ALP's current approach (It's All About Kevin) is actually going to limit them here. McKew, like Gillard and Swan and Garrett and Macklin and Fitzgibbon, is positioned at the moment as "helping Kevin to become PM". Which means she'll be her own candidate to the extent that the Liberal dirt machine can target her personally and Kevin's candidate for everything else. I don't think this gives McKew a lot of room to run locally in her own right, which is why I suspect this is about trying box Howard in rather than a serious grab at Bennelong.

I think the history of Brand over the past decade is instructive in this matter. Kim Beazley could offer some insight on how to run campaigns in marginals while running a national campaign. Of course, Howard could just decide that it's all too hard and now's the time to pursue other interests. No, didn't think anyone else was buying that line of thought...

posted on February 27, 2007 at 12:22 PM by darren.