February 07, 2004

The Schnauser and the Labrador - the "Great" debate

Queensland’s “Great Debate” was more the “Great talking past each other”. A panel of 4 journalists asked the leaders individual questions. It was a little like coming to see Agassi play Phillipoussos and finding that they are not really playing each other, but are actually in two adjacent practice courts rallying against their training partners. So there was no real engagement, but there was a winner – Beattie.

My judgement on this is partly dues to what was said, but also to a large extent based on how they presented. Is it fair to do this? In an earlier post I described one possible ALP tactic as the Doberman and Schnauser .It was on display yesterday, but I think at a subconscious rather than tactical or strategic level, although I think calling Peter Beattie a “Doberman” was too harsh. Let’s call it the “Labrador and Schnauser” tactic. Either way, there was only one “alpha male” standing at the podium yesterday, and it wasn’t Lawrence Springborg.

This crystallized for me something which our focus groups have been saying right from the beginning. Yes, I could accept that they thought Springborg was too young and inexperienced, but because I get most of my news from the papers and often don’t see the TV broadcasts I missed some of the nuances. He’s playing completely out of his league, and that was apparent looking at both he and Beattie standing there.

Beattie was lucky with the lighting, it was adjusted so it shone on his head bouncing off his face and bronze hair in an almost halo effect. Springborg being taller took the light on his chest and his head disappeared into the dusk of the Convention center (and it was so dusky most of us were having trouble reading name tags). Yet it was more than that. One of our focus group participants said that she often saw Springborg as she walked home from QUT and “it’s O.K. to smile Lawrence…” I now saw what she meant. He was grim in an indication that he wasn’t comfortable being there, not that he was lacking a sense of humour. Beattie in contrast was his usual beaming self.

While the rules of the debate weren’t set up to encourage engagement, at one stage compare Chris O’Brien invited Beattie and Springborg to interject on each other. In another indication of lack of confidence Springborg did. He intermittently called out barely audible comments through the side of his mouth rather than grabbing some point and taking it to center stage.

In politics and life the largest part of success isn’t being intelligent or persuasive, good-looking or tall, even though those are generally ingredients in the mix, it is having others and yourself accept that you have a right to be successful. Springborg knew he shouldn’t have been there on the stage. He was beaten, whipped, and about to be put out for the night.

Perhaps this body language is a result of knowing that the Coalition campaign was under-prepared. This was painfully obvious in what was said in the presentations of each. Beattie talked about positive policies and then he listed the headline bullet point ones. 1500 nurses, cardiac units etc. Springborg talked about running a positive campaign and boasted of releasing 101 policies during the campaign, but didn’t name one specific promise. Whoever was preparing him all through the campaign should have made sure that he knew what the list of Coalition headline promises were and kept repeating them, but either they didn’t or he is a bad student.

Beattie also hit a mark when he criticized the Opposition for their “Re-Pete” ads for criticizing him personally. My gauge for that is that I was sitting at the same table as One Nation Leader Bill Flynn and his wife. When Beattie made this riposte it was one of the few times Maggie Flynn clapped, and I think the One Nation voter would be a good yard stick on this issue. (Why were Bill and Maggie sitting at table 26 with the “B-List” invitees one table away from the kitchen? I guess that is the story of One Nation this election.)

Then in Lawrence’s summing up he confused us all. He started on the refrain of “restoring the balance” – that was familiar territory – but then he said it meant “balancing the books”. And then it was balancing a whole range of other things. Presumably the Coalition’s research was showing that people liked the phrase but they didn’t really know what it meant. We told them that three weeks a go. Trying to redefine it at the last moment is a sign of rank amateurism.

On the way in to the debate we had a talkative taxi driver. I know all his voting intentions and why. When it comes to State he’s voting for Beattie, hopes he wins, but hopes other people vote against him so that he wins with a much smaller majority. After yesterday’s performance I am confirmed in my view – our taxi driver’s only going to get one wish out of two.

Posted by Graham at February 7, 2004 08:14 AM
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