News Politics Australian Politics Dennis Atkins: From character to competence, ‘Scotty from Marketing’ is in a world of pain

Dennis Atkins: From character to competence, ‘Scotty from Marketing’ is in a world of pain

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seen wearing a face mask during a press conference at Kirribilli House on July 16, 2021 in Sydney
Multiple polls show Scott Morrison’s personal rating is on a deep slide. Photo: Getty/TND
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The competence a politician has and displays is the Bitcoin of the modern business.

If you’re competent enough and present as such, with the typical confidence high-achieving pols have in abundance, your selling price is on the escalator.

Just like the roller coaster ride Bitcoin traders know so well, when a political leader falters in competence and starts looking to be out of his or her depth your value takes a dive.

Right now Scott Morrison is like Bitcoin. He spent 2020 on the rise – hitting unprecedented highs over time – but then slumped in the early months of 2021.

After a low in February, Bitcoin bounced around in a mild recovery phase before again hitting February-like lows in the past week.

Morrison’s numbers have been tracking Bitcoin – not exactly (there’s sharper sentiment behind the billions of dollars in Bitcoin World) but scarily enough to give the Prime Minister and his colleagues some nervy nights.

The slide accelerates

Of course, Bitcoin could rebound in a heartbeat, while it might take Morrison a little while longer to rebuild his faltering standing.

As everyone has noted, three polls published between Monday and Wednesday showed Morrison’s personal rating on a deep slide, the Coalition in an election-losing place in both primary and preferred voting.

The only saving number for Morrison was as preferred prime minister, where Morrison continued to outpace Anthony Albanese by just under 20 percent.

You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon to realise what went so very wrong for the guy they call Scotty from Marketing.

By his own admission, his big job for 2021 was getting the COVID vaccine program right – getting enough supplies into the community and into arms.

It’s been a failure by any metric. Even Mr Marketing Guy admits the program is “about” two months behind where it should be.

Actually, any realistic metric would put it “about” three and half months behind (and that’s generous). The public see this and have marked Morrison down.

It comes back to the hierarchy of needs – and protecting and saving lives is top of that pyramid in any psychological textbook, ahead of economic and physical safety (which run a close, equal second).

After the hell also known as 2020, people regard protecting lives as the highest priority in a world where the virus continues to run rampant, infections are spiralling and health systems are stretched.

Again none of this should surprise. The history of viral pandemics tells us first waves are followed by usually more serious second waves – made worse by apathy, complacency and the initial “we’re all in this together” vibe being replaced by a “dog eats dog” mood.

Enter the marketing guy with his typical snappy slogan. This time it was “it’s not a race”, which he first used to answer questions about the slow process in official approvals for vaccines.

Trailing the field

In typical style, Morrison adopted it as an excuse to apply whenever it was needed. “It’s not a race” became the new hedge to hide behind whenever anything wasn’t going to plan.

Morrison, who claims cognitive brilliance, should have known the further he and his vaccine program (or any other aspect of the pandemic response) fell behind, the more and more it would look like the race it actually was.

Now the crowd at Flemington is watching the horse they were told to bet on, and it’s trailing the field and looking suspiciously sore in the hind leg.

The other “C” word Morrison needs to worry about is character. It’s harder to conjure than competence – you can try hard to have the traits and attributes people expect and respect in politicians, but faked authenticity is quite transparent.

Morrison’s character took a pummeling in February and March, when he had to take two attempts to present a genuine response to a government staffer being allegedly raped in the ministerial wing – and then losing two metaphorical toes when he misfired while mopping up.

Now his character is back on the public’s radar and it is not a good look for him.

Talk on the streets of capital cities and regional centres, reports from MPs up and down the east coast and general anecdotal feedback all suggest a general frustration bleeding into an anger that heats from red to white.

A good form guide to Morrison’s world of pain is in The Guardian’s Essential Report, published this week.

Measuring the Prime Minister’s “leader attributes”, Essential found Morrison had gone backwards in every category.

Compared with mid-March, Morrison is more out of touch with ordinary people, more prone to avoiding responsibility, less in control of his team, less trustworthy, less honest than most politicians and less visionary.

The Barnaby factor

As bad as this set of results is, the worst number for Marketing Guy is whether he is good in a crisis. He is now regarded as having this attribute by 49 percent of voters, the first time he’s been under 50 percent since January, 2020 – just after the summer of fires, climate change and sports rorts.

At the height of his approval for handling the pandemic – in May last year – Morrison had two in three voters giving him a tick for being good in a crisis. Most political manuals reckon this is a good attribute to have if you happen to be in a crisis.

A side note to these poll results is the possible explanation for why people are marking Morrison down on being in control of his team. The answer may well be found in two words: Barnaby Joyce.

According to a number of MPs who have been out in various urban and regional communities since Parliament has been on its winter break, Joyce’s return to the Nationals’ leadership has not been the boost the Tamworth politician’s backers used as a major selling point.

A recycled Barnaby is seen as damaged goods and not the safe pair of hands possessed by the man he replaced, Michael MacCormack.

If ever there was a rebuttal to the trite maxim that all publicity is good publicity, it’s Barnaby Joyce.

His return is just adding to the world of pain Morrison is waking to each and every day.

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