On January 22nd I sent the following tweet.
‘Hi Peta Credlin, u know that feminist thing? Some of the things I’m reading hint u’r being set up 2 take fall 4 TA. If so, we’re here to help’
January 22 was many days before the Prince Philip debacle but it did follow yet another humiliating backflip (with a pike) on another unpopular policy – the changes to Medicare payments for GPs.
In response to the outcry that generated, I could already see there were moves afoot by some in the LNP to activate a strategy that has been used for millennia to help a stumbling leader save face. Namely, find the nearest chick and throw her under the bus. Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin was the obvious female to fling under the wheels.
On the 22nd of January there were mutterings, now, since Tony Abbott’s disastrous Captain’s pick in the Australia Day honours, there is a cacophony. Interestingly it is coming almost entirely from Credlin’s own side, which indicates the only people they are really trying to convince is themselves.
We’ve heard many unflattering things said about Ms Credlin since she became Abbott’s chief minder. We’ve been told she’s ‘controlling’, that she operates a ‘command and control’ style of management, that she and Julie Bishop have a ‘poisonous relationship’ and that she keeps a tight rein on access to the PM.
These are all classic criticisms leveled at women in power. Men are strong, women are controlling. Men lead, women use command and control. Men are rivals, women hate each other. Men protect, women obstruct. I daresay Peta Credlin does her job well which is to protect her boss but, and that’s the point, he is her boss, not the other way around. What she does, she does because he wants her to. Indeed, it is a big part of her job to take the flack for him.
Of course, thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s suggestions (with friends like him, who need enemies?) Tony Abbott is now left with no credible next step. If he fires Credlin, he looks like he does Murdoch’s bidding but if he doesn’t fire Credlin, he looks like he does her bidding.
He’s stuck because even if Credlin – as Murdoch unhelpfully suggested – falls on her sword (do women have swords?) it will still look like Abbott is Murdoch’s lackey. It is also not a good look for the Minister for Women to scapegoat one of the very few powerful women in his government. Particularly as she has done no more than her job and is clearly not responsible for this latest alarmingly stupid decision.
Despite this, however, I daresay they will find a way to ditch Ms Credlin and then we will watch the cabinet manfully (well, that’s what all but two of them are) try to ‘sell’ another unpalatable message.
Which brings me to the main problem with our current Federal Government. The only self-criticism any of them are prepared to make in the face of a dizzying fall from popularity is that they have failed to sell their message. They are simply bad at communications, in other words. Frankly as long as they believe that, they are doomed.
It is a truth universally acknowledged in advertising that even the very best communications can only sell a bad product once. And a bad product in advertising terms is one that doesn’t live up to its promises. You can see how it works; the ad promises you one thing, the product fails to deliver what you thought you were buying so you never buy it again.
The Abbott Government was very good at communication in opposition. It sold its message brilliantly. It made many, many attractive promises to the voters clearly and unequivocally. Unfortunately, the minute it got into office (remember the Gonski double back flip with pike in November 2013?) it began to – not just fail to live up to its promises – but downright refuse to. Far from being a government of no surprises it has left many voters gasping in its wake.
In direct contradiction of the PM’s own words, it has attempted to cut education, welfare, health, the ABC and SBS. Even more strangely, they seem genuinely bewildered at the furious push back they have experienced as a result. No wonder the electorate does not believe the adults are back in charge; more like jumping from the frying pan into fire.
This government can – quite irrationally and unfairly – get rid of Peta Credlin. It can (and probably will) replace the PM if his numbers fail to improve. It can have endless reshuffles and spin its messages every which way it likes but none of that will help. Unless it delivers to voters what they were promised and so give them what they thought they were buying, the electorate will not be persuaded.
It’s not the selling that is the problem. It is the message itself.