George Droutsas’ rambling, predictable fibs #springst #vicvotes
There will be no shortage of others lining up to point out, better than I ever could, what a bastard former ALP staffer George Droutsas is, so I will leave it to them*.
I will, however, address the craven, self-serving and vacuous nonsense that comprises the feature-length hatchet job on the Victorian Labor campaign Droutsas authored in this morning’s Age newspaper.
Firstly, a note of jaded realism. The prospect of a former (even if disgraced) political insider putting his name to a vicious attack on his former masters, especially in the wake of an election loss, is irresistible to any media outlet. The Age, therefore, cannot be blamed for jumping at the chance to publish the Droutsas piece, whatever its many, many inadequacies. Far from it — it’s fair game.
But the article itself is an unmitigated disgrace.
Droutsas lays out seven reasons for Labor’s loss at last week’s state election, but the article has a singular purpose: to argue that John Brumby lost the election because he ignored the insightful, blunt and wise counsel of former ALP state secretary Stephen Newnham. Instead, according to Droutsas, Brumby relied on the cooing of sycophantic novices in his private office, specifically Newnham’s replacement, Nick Reece. Here is the key para:
The alarm bells were sounding. Eighteen months out, there lay the opportunity to craft a winning strategy leading up to November 2010. Newnham set out to promote strategies to meet the challenges facing Labor. His views did not sit well with the upper echelon of decision makers within government. People who had become accustomed to acquiescence for a decade, and to being told how delightfully pleasant their policy excrements smelt, did not take kindly to being told otherwise. To the government’s detriment, the straight-talking Newnham was hung out to dry – much to the delight of the Liberals who knew he had been instrumental in Labor’s 2006 state election win and a string of byelections.
Let me try and do justice to the stupendousness of this extraordinary set of assertions.
- People inside campaigns invariably overstate their contribution to the outcome, especially when they win — this comes from the very human impulse to overstate our ability to affect external events (in psychology, this is called illusion of control). State secretaries or campaign managers don’t win elections or by-elections any more than they lose them, except at the very outer margins. In 2006, Labor won despite Newnham; in 2010, it lost despite Reece.
- If the Liberal Party were ever even remotely afraid of Stephen Newnham or delighted at his departure, as Droutsas claims, then I am an 18th century burlesque performer named Imogen.
- Newnham, to be nice about it, is not regarded as a strategist’s bumcheeks. He survived in the role as long as he did largely because of the loyalty of John Brumby who, by the end, was his only defender. Claims by Droutsas that Newnham was some kind of fearless James Carville-style truth-teller is so laughable it makes me want to cry. (To be fair, people may have ignored Newnham — but this is because he was almost universally regarded as incompetent and not a little unintelligent. In that sense, he was a unifying figure).
- If you are going to argue that a government lost office because it ignored specific strategic advice, shouldn’t you at least spell out what such advice was? The fact that Droutsas doesn’t confirms what should be obvious by now: there was no such moment when expertly “crafted” winning strategies were tabled by Newnham only to be rejected Brumby’s arrogant advisors. It is a complete fiction.
The remainder of the Droutsas analysis amounts to generic moaning, a compendium of predictable complaints: Labor should have run better negative ads; they didn’t draw a clear enough contrast on services; law and order hurt them; the leader was surrounded by toadies and idiots, etc. These are criticisms that could be translated into 200 hundred languages and applied to any imaginable electoral loss in the farthest corners of the planet. There is no insight to be had, not even by accident.
*Googling his name helps give you a flavour of the man, however.