I caught up with Everald Compton in the Cricketers Club bar of the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne last night. It was a suitably grand edifice to spend a few moments with one of the great enduring institutions in my life. Half-way through his first single malt whiskey, Everald made it clear he had some important announcements to make on the future of the nation.
“Julia Gillard,” he said, raising his voice enough to momentarily silence the clatter and babble of the drinkers around. “…will win the next Federal election by two seats.”
Now I don’t know much about politics and care for it even less but this notion very much accorded with my own thoughts on the subject. However I have been keeping this to myself for a while for fear of looking foolish. It’s a state that I am much acquainted with in my journalistic career but on the matter of politics I tend to avoid it for lack of knowledge. I prefer to be a well-founded fool mostly.
At 81, Everald has been around long enough to have met all kinds of fools and helped a number of them enter federal and state parliaments across the nation. He knows politics better than anyone I have ever met, largely because he is not possessed by one side or the other.
He’s one of the few operatives I know who understand the difference between political power and national interest. As a political fund raiser and lobbyist for Australian seniors he has worked with all shades of politics and maintains friendships across the spectrum. When Everald has something to say, very senior national figures take the call. He is not only an avuncular, humorous old uncle type of bloke over a drink but after more than half a century of observing politics he’s got a deep intuitive understanding of what’s going on. He’s got grass roots in his bones.
His declaration was timely as I had been in at 774 ABC Melbourne radio that morning talking bikies and I was followed by big time pundit Barrie Cassidy. Cassidy was asked about how much trouble Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was in. The gist of Cassidy’s answer was that while Abbott was clearly struggling, Gillard’s electoral challenge was almost too great. She would have to do the impossible to win, including gaining seats in NSW.
Like many political journalists and commentators Cassidy is aware that anti-Abbott sentiment is growing but he sticks with his head not his heart on the matter. Canberra is not a great place from which to measure public opinion. You might as well predict the surf conditions on Bondi Beach from there. A tsunami could be washing up Campbell Parade and you wouldn’t know it from the nation’s capital.
Everald based his prediction on the recent US federal election. Everald, in his bipartisan way, had signed up to both the Romney and Obama campaigns via the internet. He was prepared to make a donation to both campaigns to demonstrate his impartiality however was politely informed that as a foreign national he was precluded from doing so. He contented himself with receiving email updates from the two campaigns. Michelle Obama sent him a personal invitation to a party, along with a hundred thousand or more of her ardent admirers. (I assured Everald that Michelle would have eyes only for him, but he stayed in Brisbane nonetheless.) Ann Romney also sent him lovely respectful reassuring messages thanking him personally for his support by name.
But beyond the pleasantries, Everald could see the difference between the two campaigns. Early on Romney had made his famous gaffe about governing only for 47 per cent of Americans so through the campaign he was at pains to say how he was going to save all Americans from another four years of Obama.
Obama was in effect saying that he too would govern for sections of the American public. Yet he did it in a much cleverer way. Everald could see that Obama was appealing to specific groups, Hispanics, African Americans, auto workers, young women etc. Obama knew precisely to whom he would have to appeal to win. Everald said that he was convinced months out that Obama was going to win, and handsomely too.
All those pundits who predicted a tight race failed to understand the national mood and the sophistication of Obama’s campaign. Obama’s people understood that the days of generalist policies were over. Winning politicians would find their audience and give them what they wanted.
Everald became convinced of Gillard’s winning edge when he discovered that the ALP had embedded several of its operatives within the Obama campaign. They would come back with a winning formula, he said. If Abbott’s people had been with Romney they bring home nothing but a recipe for defeat.
Certainly, Abbott’s approach is not working and he is not changing. He might have stopped droning on about that “great big tax” but now has nothing inspiring to replace it with. The anti-carbon tax campaign has failed to cut through and his clumsy attempts to counter Gillard’s misogyny speech have fallen flat. The budgie smugglers must be feeling tight.
Warming into his second scotch, Everald made his second big pronouncement. He recalled that on 3 February 1983, in a meeting in Brisbane, Opposition Leader Bill Hayden’s closest advisers told him that he had to step aside for Bob Hawke, otherwise Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser would win the early election he was planning to call. Hayden reluctantly agreed and Hawke was elected leader unopposed.
Later that morning, unaware of the events in Brisbane, Fraser called a snap election for 5 March. Fraser knew of the brawling within Labor, but only discovered later that Hayden had resigned hours before the election writs were issued. Hawke duly won the election and Fraser was consigned to history.
Everald said that as soon as Coalition backbenchers begin to fear they will lose their seats they will start swinging behind Malcolm Turnbull. Don’t be surprised when the Coalition knifes Abbott. And it could be 1983 all over again.
Forget the fact that Turnbull was a divisive force in his year as Opposition leader. When faced with extinction, the back benchers will return to Turnbull. Everald rates him as a figure from the JFK mould. A wealthy man with a desire to serve the nation.
The Canberra commentariat will give you a dozen reasons why this can never happen which makes me all the more certain that it will. After a couple of drinks in the Cricketers Club it made perfect sense to me.
I get the feeling that many journalists have believed for months that an Abbott victory was a foregone conclusion. It’s rather like sports writers who have retired to the bar when one footy team is miles ahead at three-quarter time only to miss the great comeback. Something’s happening here and it’s not good for Tony Abbott. I think I might get down to the TAB or the local SP and put a few quid on Julia this morning. Expect her odds to shorten in the coming months.