Kevin Rudd demanded repeatedly than John Howard debate him but then threatened not to turn up when a debate was to be held because he demanded multiple debates. Rudd insisted on determining the agenda. But yes, he will turn up to debate Howard this Sunday. Who could be surprised?
I wonder whether Howard should have met Rudd halfway on the debate proposal. The Coalition, despite recent welcome improvement in the polls, still faces the prospect of defeat. Why not agree to some debates but broaden it a bit? Have a debate on economics between Wayne Swan and Peter Costello, between Joe Hockey and Julia Gillard, between Peter Garrett and Malcolm Turnbull etc. This option may still be open.
From the Coalition’s viewpoint such debates would play to its strength and gives it the chance to do something dramatic to reverse its fortunes. I wonder how the Australian public would take to the prospect of Wayne Swan as Treasurer if they had seen him debating Peter Costello. My guess is that the prospect of change would become frightening real.
Rudd as Laurie Oakes wrote in this week's Bulletin (subscription required) is a windbag full of cliches - putting him on the spot with respect to policy substance is a sound tactic too.
My post yesterday on the Coalition’s improving prospects is valid – there is a real chance Howard can retieve this situation and win – but it requires an active attack on Labor not any passive reliance on past form.
The initial tax policy announcement by the Coalition was fine – it got the campaign off to a flying start – by some of this impulse was offset by the ‘second-mover advantage’ made possible by ‘me-tooism’. Labor simply replicated the policy and made a minor switch by persecuting wealthy taxpayers and giving the proceeds to school-kids. Dump populist policy since these types of redistributions would be better effected by direct grants to poor schools but undoubtedly an effective ploy among the naive and ignorant. The difficulty, as Peter Costello stated yesterday, is that if Labor is elected they won’t have a paid team of Liberal Party advisers on hand to work out their policies. They will have to rely largely on their front bench of populist trade unionists and party hacks to design policy.
In open debates ‘me-tooism’ won’t be as effective for the opposition. The Coalition therefore has little to lose by pursuing a series of more open debates in terms of improving its electoral prospects. They are better-qualified ministers than their shadow opponents.