ANDREW CARSWELL: Why Peter Dutton keeps driving Labor completely bonkers

Andrew Carswell
The Nightly
Peter Dutton, right, is driving Labor bonkers, writes Andrew Carswell.
Peter Dutton, right, is driving Labor bonkers, writes Andrew Carswell. Credit: The Nightly

“Negative”. “Bully boy”. “Wrecker”.

But preferred prime minister.

Welcome to the inconvenient truth that is driving Labor completely bonkers.

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For all the insults they’ve thrown at Peter Dutton. For all the smears they’ve dumped on him. For all the sordid history dug up and laid at his feet. For all the insinuations that Australia finds him unlikeable, unsuitable, and unelectable.

He’s still there.

Better yet, he’s in front.

He is the preferred prime minister of Australia — so says this week’s Resolve poll. Wasn’t a misprint. Wasn’t inside the margin of error. Wasn’t in the Murdoch press.

And thus the moans of disgust and indignation from the Canberra bubble and Labor caucus are now audible beyond the capital’s walls. Labor cannot for the life of it believe that a gruff, monotone, raging right winger from Queensland is now not only a credible alternate prime minister in the eyes of the great unwashed, but preferred to the current bloke occupying the Lodge.

Peter Dutton. Yes, him! That so-called heartless immigration minister who helped stop the boats. That so-called insensitive politician who joked about rising sea levels lapping at the feet of Pacific Islanders. The guy apparently walking away from Australia’s climate commitments. Every teal’s worst nightmare.

It churns the stomachs of the Labor faithful. It completely baffles them. They cannot fathom a universe where this scenario is remotely possible. Certainly not in this progressive utopian new world we (they) live in. It’s messing with their heads. Because it wasn’t meant to be like this. Labor folk could not mask their delight when Dutton was gifted the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party post the Coalition’s expiration in 2022, because as far as they were concerned, he was also a gift to the Labor Party.

And for a long time, Labor consoled itself through difficult times with the ironclad belief that Dutton was unelectable; that despite all its hiccups and missteps, despite the scandals and dramas that threatened to engulf the Government, Australia would never elect Peter Dutton as prime minister of Australia.

Labor has long misunderstood Peter Dutton, and therefore severely underestimated him. He continues to confound them. He is an affront to their values and their world view.

But he’s not alone. This incomprehension of common type is symptomatic of a broader disease within a Labor Party that has steadily become elitist, conceited and preachy, brandishing a style of cliched progressive politics that is all rhetoric and no substance; that pursues social and socialist outcomes without countenancing the consequences.

Day by day, they continue to misunderstand the majority of Australians. What they want, how they want their country to be, what is near and dear to them.

The Australians who want affordable and reliable power. The Australians who want their children to one day buy a house without selling a kidney. The Australians who want to take action on climate change, but don’t want to damage the economy in the process and push up energy prices. The Australians who want to carefully manage migration so our housing, infrastructure and services can keep up with population increases. The Australians who want dangerous criminals behind bars. The Australians who want the freedom to live out their faith without fear or judgment. The Australians who long to head to Woolies without a calculator.

Just sensible stuff. Nothing outrageous.

This creeping elitism is best articulated by UK author Matthew Goodwin, who said: “an increasingly liberalised, globalised ruling class has lost touch with millions, who found their values ignored, their voices unheard and their virtue denied”.

It has nothing to do with left or right politics. Goodwin wrote of Blair’s Labor. But the same could be said for the UK Conservative Party. It is an apolitical flaw that is bred from ego and superiority. From believing that you are right, and others are wrong. All the time.

The reason why Peter Dutton is, for now, preferred prime minister in the eyes of Australians, is not because of the broad suite of countermeasures or the dynamic vision he is putting on the table.

He is just saying sensible things.

And sensible people are hearing it.

But he is also highlighting what fed-up Australians are grasping; that the very thing beginning to define this Government is incompetence; that the very thing beginning to define Anthony Albanese is weakness.

Things that for all his history, faults and shortfalls, cannot be said about Dutton.

Which leaves an interesting choice for voters amid times of economic hardship, upheaval and uncertainty, with a gulf between the public perceptions about both leaders, negative and positive.

Labor-aligned Redbridge pollster Kos Samaras summarises the perceptions as such:

“Albanese — warm but not competent. Dutton — cold but competent.”

“During typical economic conditions, warmth/non-competence can work as traits, but in times of crisis, qualities like coldness and competence may take precedence if the electorate loses faith in the Government’s ability to resolve the situation. People may opt for leaders they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy a drink with, prioritising traits that are more likely to effectively address a crisis.”

The cold hard facts.

Andrew Carswell is a political strategist and former adviser to the Morrison government.

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