Souffle rising a third time ?
The resignation of Victorian Opposition leader Robert Doyle has produced widespread suggestions that Jeff Kennett should return to politics. While Kennett could scarcely do worse than Doyle, there’s not much reason to suppose he would do a great deal better.
The core of Kennett’s political appeal in the 1990s was the claim that, thanks to Labor’s mismanagement, Victoria was in a state of crisis that could only be remedied by the radical free-market reforms he advocated. Voters bought this story in two successive elections, but had tired of it by 1999, when he was narrowly defeated. Although some claimed at the time that voters had merely intended to “send the government a message”, a string of Labor victories in by-elections suggested the opposite message – once the possibility of getting rid of Kennett became a reality, voters embraced it with enthusiasm.
Kennett’s biggest problem though, is that everything the Bracks government has done can be seen as preparation against a possible Kennett comeback. On the one hand, they’ve been obsessed with avoiding anything that would smack of fiscal irresponsibility. Official debt levels have been held down through expedients like Public-Private Partnerships (the apparent benefits are bogus, but Kennett can scarcely argue this, having been a pioneer of the PPP mania). On the other hand, they’ve restored a lot of the cuts to schools, hospitals and so on made under Kennett. As a result, Bracks can easily run a scare campaign against Kennett, but not vice versa
It’s hard to see Kennett winning in the election due in about six months, though presumably there will be some clawback from the 2002 disaster. In the longer run, anything can happen. But if he comes back, I’d say this implies a commitment to stick out a full parliamentary term as leader, and it’s not obvious that he’d be willing to do this.
As for Doyle, he will only be remembered, if at all, for his irresponsible campaigns in favour of speeding (more precisely, against any effective measures to curb speeding). His departure from politics is long overdue.
More on the souffle question from Rank and Vile
UpdateSo much for that idea