Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Leaning on the bank

Today’s Fin reports that Howard, Costello and Vaile are all leaning on the Reserve Bank not to raise interest rates at its Tuesday meeting. Howard and Costello are arguing that the Bank is obliged to focus on headline rather than underlying CPI movements, while Vaile is claiming that there is a convention of not increasing rates during a campaign. Costello’s warning of an economic tsunami heading for our shores can be seen as more of the same.

This seems both desperate and self-defeating. After the inflation figures, the government’s best hope was that the Bank would share the view that the uncertain global situation made a rate increase undesirable. Ideally, some hints to this effect from the Bank would promote the view that we should stick with the economic managers we know. But now, any such decision will be seen as buckling to government pressure. That makes it more likely that the Bank will raise rates, and ensures that, if they don’t, it will be a political negative for the government.

Kelly on climate

While I’m on the Oz, this exceptionally confused piece from Paul Kelly gets just one thing right. Howard’s refusal to ratify Kyoto, despite accepting all the key terms, is evidence of paralysis. I can’t be bothered attempting a point-by-point rebuttal, so I’ll just state the facts about which Kelly seems to be confused
* The Kyoto Protocol constitutes the agreements to act under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for the period up to 2012
* The basis of the agreement was that developed countries would cut emissions first, and that less developed countries would do so in later rounds (the post-2012 round is about to be negotiated)
* Suggestions to “amend the Kyoto Protocol” make no sense, since it’s only got four years to run anyway, and its successor is about to be negotiated
* The reason Howard is paralysed is not because he is dogmatically inflexible on symbolic issues (look at his backflip on reconciliation) but because ratifying Kyoto would put him into direct conflict with George Bush, and he is incapable of taking such a step

Conceding defeat in the culture wars

Not long ago, Tom Switzer (opinion editor for the Oz) was claiming victory in the culture wars at a Quadrant dinner (hat-tip to reader Jason McDonald). Now, Greg Sheridan is conceding defeat, at least on the assumption (now nearly universal) that the Liberals are heading for defeat. Unsurprisingly, both of them focus a lot of attention on the ABC, though Sheridan’s list extends to the media in general (News Limited? PBL?) and (a kind recognition that we still exist) universities.

The most striking feature of both articles is that they seem stuck in the fights of the 1990s, over political correctness, multiculturalism and so on. There’s no mention at all of climate change, and hardly any of Iraq (Switzer notes in passing that he opposed it). Yet if you want to explain the failure of the right wing in the culture wars you can’t go past these two cases. In both cases, having chosen sides, the right treated facts as being either utterly irrelevant or as talking points to be trumpeted or denied according to political need. In both, they hung on, time after time, to positions that had long since ceased to be defensible. These are tactics that worked reasonably well in culture wars and history wars, since there’s rarely any final reckoning. But in the case of Iraq and climate change, reality has a way of obtruding.

Looking at the disagreement between the two, Sheridan is much more focused on the Liberal party, and on control of institutions. He recognises that the attempt to impose control from the top has failed, though he persists with the silly “elite” terminology in which a university lecturer is a member of an elite from which, say, the CEO of a major company is excluded.

The other big difference is in the implied view of Kevin Rudd and, implicitly, of other centrists like Clinton and Blair (or, more relevantly now, Gordon Brown). They are clearly not leftwingers, and in that sense, the culture warriors can declare victory and go home. On the other hand, although their commitment to the social democratic strand of liberalism is so thin as to be almost invisible at times, they are clearly in a different category from the US Republicans who carry the rightwing flag in the global culture wars.

Time to call this one

I don’t have much of a reputation for accurate election predictions[1],[2], but I’m going to call this one for Labor. Short of something unexpected and uncontrollable by either side, I can’t see the Libs pulling this out of the fire. I think it’s just a matter of waiting out the remaining month.

[1] A week out from the 2004 election, I thought the position was in Labor’s favor, and even on the day I thought the odds close to 50-50, so I wouldn’t base large-scale betting-market investments on my judgement if I were you.

[2] By contrast, I think I’ve called the Iraq war pretty well, but that’s another story.

Books I’ve been reading

As well as Dance to the Music of Time, there’s Bob Burton’s Inside Spin a well-researched look at the operations of PR in Australia. As well as standard PR and Astroturf operations, there’s plenty of interesting material on think tanks like CIS and IPA. And I’m also reading To Firmer Ground edited by John Langmore, which provides a lot of useful policy suggestions for a social-democratic government. Sadly, the decision to match Howard’s tax cuts has closed off much of the room for manoeuvre available to Labor over the next three years, assuming they get in.

Dead cats

The government got its bounce last week, but it looks to have been of the dead cat variety, with the latest Newspoll (taken before the debate) showing Labor ahead 58-42 on 2PP. Of course, the usual warnings about margin of error apply to both this poll and the previous one. There’s nothing to suggest, with any certainty, that there has been any movement away from the average of 56-44 that’s prevailed all year.

The big problem is the perception that the government has fired off all its big guns and achieved nothing. We’re already seeing backdowns on a bunch of issues (Turnbull on nuclear power for example), but they’ll need more than this, or another bounce, to stave off the view that disaster is inevitable. it might not be too late for Howard to pull back a few points by ratifying Kyoto, but he needs to do something quickly.