Monday, 22 October 2007

Why Howard lost the debate

I thought I’d add my thoughts about last night’s debate to the mix, for what they’re worth!

I have to say upfront that I am not a fan of John Howard, and so quite possibly I was less eager to hear his point of view or award him brownie points than in the case of Kevin Rudd. But despite that I was really surprised by Mr Howard’s lackluster performance, his refusal to answer questions asked by Mr Rudd as well as the panel of journalists and his seeming inability to engage with Mr Rudd on issues where I thought he could have scored a few points. He seemed, quite frankly, old and snippy, and much more negative than Mr Rudd, which is strange as it’s usually the Opposition who comes across as the most negative.

I think Mr Howard’s first mistake was to elect to go second. I would have understood the decision if he was planning to rebuff some of Mr Rudd’s opening remarks in his own opening statement, but all he did was deliver a prepared speech that seemed almost nonsensical. In his opening remarks Mr Rudd put forward a clear plan for the future without unnecessary negative remarks. Mr Howard spent much of his time going on and on about Labor claiming Australia’s current state of prosperity was because of the mining boom – but it didn’t make sense because Mr Rudd hadn’t talked much about the mining boom in his opening remarks. If all Mr Howard was going to do was deliver a prepared speech, he should have gone first.

His second mistake was to blunder around not answering questions. On Iraq, climate change, interest rates and child care he just did not adequately answer the question or explain his reasoning.

Thirdly, and most oddly, he totally misused his questions for Mr Rudd. Asking the leader of the Opposition why he didn’t spend more time talking with the US President about climate change when he himself has ignored the issue for 11 years was just plain stupid. Voters are particularly anti-government on both Australian/US relations and climate change, and for him to bring it up in the same question was a spectacular mistake, as testified to by the worm. This was compounded by him saying we as a country needed to protect “America’s prestige” – may I ask why? This didn’t go down well at all. Then he asked a vague question about Mr Rudd guaranteeing his election promises – which gave Mr Rudd the opportunity to freely electioneer for a few minutes before closing statements. He also missed the opportunity to point out that if Labor wins, we will be a completely Labor-dominated country, which does worry voters.

Fourthly, he was just too negative, calling Mr Rudd “pessimistic” just seemed petty and pathetic, and quite untrue, as Mr Rudd was almost bounding across the stage with energy and enthusiasm, while it looked as though Mr Howard might need a good lie down.

Of course, Mr Rudd should not escape our criticism either. He should have been clearer about his interim targets for climate change and he needed to explain clearly why he supports disengaging from the Iraq war while at the same time leaving troops in Afghanistan. Though it is clear the situations are markedly different, it needed to be spelled out, as Mr Howard directly attacked him on this point. Mr Rudd did also rely a little on slogans. But it worked – at the end of the debate I could quite clearly pinpoint what Labor were planning to do if elected, and name several policies, whereas I really had no idea what the Liberals were offering. However, Mr Howard has never debated well, and has won the previous two elections…but I think that this time that might change. Labor has not been a worthy opponent for the past few years, but now they seem to have their act together there might be a different tale to tell on November 24.

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