Don’t die wondering about the Labor leadership

If you were to choose a totally unrepresentative sample for a focus group test of political attitudes you would probably opt for a writer’s festival audience.

Predominantly female, older and probably retired, fairly well off, professional career background and relaxed about dress style – neat and elegant but no bling – and probably ALP voting with a few Greens thrown in as well.

However, if you were a Labor advisor wanting to ascertain degrees of enthusiasm for the party and the Leader in any forthcoming Federal election they are not a bad group to investigate.

A prime example was given at the recent Bendigo Writers Festival in Victoria at a session featuring Don Watson – novelist, essayist and renowned speech writer.

Watson does ennui with a distinctive style and tone. He blends it with modest admissions that on some subjects he simply doesn’t know the answers and that he is made uncomfortable by many of the verities the Left live with.

It took a while for the audience to get into the rhythm of the presentation but it came alive during the question time.

Now anyone who has ever been to a writers’ festival knows the worst moments are question time. Earnest people rush to the microphone begin their comments with a lengthy explanation of their identity and attitudes and then – after some urging from whoever is chairing the session – finally get around to asking something which is part query and part manifesto.

Thanks to COVID there was none of that at Bendigo because the inimitable Director, Rosemary Sorensen, changed the system so that questioners had to text any questions to the Chair.

This is an innovation which should from now on be standard practice at all writer’s festivals thus reducing the blood pressure of, and urge to vomit, in audience members forced to listen to the sort of questions which usually get asked.

The questions were succinct and the system only broke down in one session on the last day when a chair forgot to bring the mobile phone on to the stage. Even then the questions remained succinct and managed to elicit interesting answers such as that from the historian Tom Griffiths comparing today’s fake news with the research of Robert Darnton on the build up to the French Revolution.

But the best question came when Watson was asked if there was anyone he would like to write a speech for and what would he write.

Watson paused briefly and said he’d like to write a speech for Albo – Anthony Albanese.

The gist of it was: “I have been thinking of the election and my position. I realise I would be happy to be Leader of the House and have a suitable shadow portfolio. I think it would be best if I stepped aside as Leader and made way for Tanya Plibersek.”

The audience immediately started cheering and applauding.

Watson finished by arguing that the move would wrong-foot Morrison as he would find it very difficult to get the tone, messaging and tactics right. He might also blunder his way into reducing female support for the Government even further.

Now, the obvious proviso applies. The vast majority of that audience were never likely to vote for Scott Morrison. They would do it because they oppose him and what he stands for but not with any enthusiasm.

But they may well fight very hard for Labor with the passion and enthusiasm they showed at the Festival if the Leader changed.

Meanwhile Labor is apparently getting the message about the women being their best performers. They have just launched a new campaign – Not on your side – attacking the Morrison performance and highlighting lies, corruption and other failings.

The face of the campaign – Senator Kristina Kenneally.

It would be a pity if we died wondering whether Watson was right or not.