The 2022 campaign has become a game of “confrontation between elections”. Is it like in 2019, when Scott Morrison lost a Labor lead? Is it like 2007 or 1996, when a mood of change engulfed the nation and threw long-standing governments out the door? Or is it like 2010 or 2016 when troubled and divided governments clung to minority status?
Today’s offer in “what election was that?” The game was Morrison claiming he would change his style and political personality after the election, after blaming the pandemic for personality flaws which, it is painfully clear, Liberal Party campaign focus groups must prove to be al first place for voters.
Asked about his poor relationship with voters today, Morrison offered a departure from the earlier “I’m like a dentist, I may not like me but you need me” rhetoric. Instead we have:
You know, over the past three years and particularly the past two what Australians have needed from me going through this pandemic has been strength and resilience. Now, I admit this hasn’t allowed Aussies to see a lot of other gears in the way I work. And I know Australians know I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to matters and I suspect you guys know that too … that doesn’t mean – because as we enter this next period on the other side of this election, I know that there are things that will have to change with the way I do things.
Which is immediately reminiscent of Julia Gillard’s “real Julia” from the 2010 campaign. After Kevin Rudd blew that campaign by leaking against Gillard, ending his sensational poll of Tony Abbott, Gillard’s campaign team sought out ways to restore and agreed to an interview with Fairfax reporters, promising that voters would now see “the real Julia”.
The immediate problem, apparently unforeseen by Labor, prompted the “real Julia” question: had she been “fake Julia” all this time and decided to expose herself just because she was worried about losing the election? She went down as a main zeppelin in a campaign that left neither side with the majority. “Real Julia” was never mentioned again by Labor, but the Liberals certainly haven’t forgotten it.
Morrison, at least, doesn’t offer “real ScoMo”. He is saying that the real ScoMo is obviously a problem and instead the voters will receive “New improved ScoMo”. A “kinder, kinder ScoMo” perhaps. But only after the elections, presumably until next Saturday will we have ScoMo, as usual, aggressive, whistling, divisive and liar.
The fascinating thing about the turnaround is that it comes so late in the campaign, and it comes many months after it has become apparent that female voters have a big problem with Morrison. Has the diagnosis within the Liberal campaign team changed and only now have they realized the threat Morrison himself poses for re-election of the government? Wednesday night’s debate, apparently won convincingly by Anthony Albanese among undecided voters, prompted a rethink why Morrison is alienating so many voters? Or is this simply a different solution to a problem they have known for a long time, but which they initially decided to address with the phrase “you may not like me but you respect me”?
We may find out after the election. The tradition in Australian politics is that, after the election, their respective campaign directors turn to the National Press Club about their campaigns and what worked and what didn’t. The timing of the “new ScoMo” will undoubtedly be a direct question to Liberal director Andrew Hirst, who masterminded the surprise victory of 2019 and, who knows, could still accomplish another miracle with the “new ScoMo”.
But as with the “real Julia”, you can bet the opposition will have a field day with it. Especially the tip of the bulldozer: the Albanian didn’t take long to figure it out. “A bulldozer destroys things. A bulldozer drops things. I’m a builder, “he said when asked about Morrison’s statement. And then the kicker:” The prime minister raises his hand and says, ‘I’ll change’. Well, if you want to change, change the government on May 21. “