The Mistake of the PM’s Staffer: The Myth of the “Demo”
I don’t know Tony Hodges. I can’t declare that tipping off a third party about Abbott’s attendance was an innocent mistake. I simply don’t know. If he is a victim, I feel very sorry for him. We all make mistakes as young people and should be allowed to live them down. There have been sillier stunts (if that’s what it was) executed by Young Liberals in State and Federal politics and, even when directed at me, I thought that it would be unfair to judge the perpetrators for life.
But let me just drive home this point: if he or anyone in the Tent Embassy crowd thought that a “demo” would hurt Abbott – set him back, injure him politically – they are naive. Totally out of touch.
Here’s the truth of it. Demonstrations hurt the demonstrators. On the electronic media they sound extreme, bitter, angry. The faces of the protestors are contorted with what looks like hatred. There are always exhibitionists drawn to the action doing and saying crazy things. As I argued below, if it’s a Left wing cause the anarchists and Trotskyists turn out just itching to produce a clash with the Cossacks and provoke violence. They want it to be the start of the revolution. But to the Mums and Dads at home, in 90 percent of cases, the demonstrators lose their argument as the TV screens blare their shouts and hyperbole and show the amateur placards and the ragbag provocateurs.
What I’m saying is that directing a demonstration towards Abbott was gifting Abbott with a PR win. Just by talking conversationally to the cameras he was going to look good in contrast to shouting, swearing, hysterical extremists. TV is a cool medium. The person shouting in your lounge room is the one who’s out of place. Recall the 1993 Federal election when John Hewson did a daily outdoor rally? Placards, extremists of the Right, shouts…and him forced to yell into a microphone. Reduced to a seven second segment on the news bulletins it looked plain awful. He looked the extremist Keating was trying to paint him.
How on earth did anyone imagine that Abbott could lose in a show down with an angry mob?
If that was what someone contemplated it was a disturbing error of judgment. If that’s what Tony Hodges had in mind he should not have been running press for the PM. (He should, however, be given the opportunity to learn from the error).
As Premier I never saw a demonstration that didn’t hurt the side that mounted it. And I was never persuaded by a noisy crowd with a few placards. A carefully mounted case with killer facts was a different proposition.