Savage man. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies.
Trust, eh? I haven’t heard anything so mind-boggling from a political leader since Treasurer Paul Keating, having helped win Labor the 1990 election by promising to avoid a recession, baldly announced that this was the recession we had to have.
That’s one way to wipe a slate clean. But it wasn’t clean, because in 1993 he told a bald-faced lie to get re-elected. L.A.W. tax cuts, no less; to prove that Australians really could have their cake and eat it through personal tax cuts without a GST. Upon winning on a disgraceful scare campaign, he then cancelled some of the L.A.W. cuts and raised a raft of indirect taxes, including on petrol. He was history from then on.
On the surface, Howard’s shock insistence that the election is about trust is ludicrous. After all, he’s running to an election to avoid scrutiny of the lies he told in the final week of the last election about children overboard. He’s even had the gall to let the Senate come back today and tomorrow, while not allowing the People’s House to question him on children overboard and revelations that contrary to his assertion that invading Iraq would make Australia safer, experts advised him the opposite was more likely.
Trust? Well, yes. Howard’s attempt to co-opt the issue that threatens to destroy him is just another aspect of the relationship with swinging voters in key seats he nurtured in 1996 and has been living off ever since. It’s the core promise thing, stupid.
Howard convinced many doubters in 1996 by promising to keep Medicare intact and increasing funding for the ABC, among other sops. Straight after, confronted with the budget black hole both sides knew was there before the election, he constructed the idea of the “core promise”. By this he meant hip pocket promises which had swung the key swingers in the key seats behind him. He kept faith with those people, while betraying the others. He’s been doing it ever since.
The “Trust” thing is a similar play. He’s talking over the heads of the chattering classes – and a political establishment now almost universally appalled by his bullying attacks on democratic norms – to tell swingerland that he’ll keep interest rates down to protect their mortgages and that Latham cannot be “trusted” to do so.
Don’t worry about the non-core lies, he’s saying, I’ll keep looking after your hip pockets. You KNOW you can trust me on that.
Values versus bribes. As the years have worn on, the objects of Howard’s “generosity” have been ever more narrowly focused on certain sectors in certain marginals, so that tax and concessions policy is now overtly unfair and non-merits based. He’s setting up a war of hip pocket winners and losers.
The risk, of course, is that his blue ribbon seats may squirm with distaste at his cooption of the trust theme despite running away from a Parliamentary test of his own trustworthiness. Howard has been forced to take his heartland for granted, yet again, at a time when they’re getting increasingly uncomfortable with him.
Let the games begin.