Thursday, December 13, 2007

Howard Finally Concedes Defeat

How Maxine McKew Won Her History-Making, Victory In The Battle For Bennelong

An excerpt from a photo by Brendan Esposito.
Full image is here.

He waited as long as he possibly could to concede defeat, but former prime minister John Howard has finally turned up to congratulate Maxine McKew for winning the seat he had held for more than three decades. So much for McKew winning a "narrow victory." She romped home, scoring some 2400 more votes than Howard.

In the wake of the history-making election win by Kevin Rudd's Labor government, the stunning victory of former journalist Maxine McKew over John Howard in Bennelong has quickly faded from the headlines. To Howard's chagrin, however, it will feature prominently in every book written about the 2007 Election, and every biography to come of the former prime minister.

Maxine McKew quit her gig as the host of ABC's Lateline barely 12 months ago, and managed to defy history, and the mocking of Howard lackeys, to win the seat that Howard was supposedly going to own until his retirement.

The story of how McKew pulled off her amazing victory is already legendary in Labor circles, and is being studied intensively by Liberals, who still can't believe she actually did it.

A new book, The Battle For Bennelong by Margot Saville, explains how McKew and the Labor Party pulled off their history making, and history defining, victory : was due largely to a clinical targeting of Bennelong's above-average number of non-English-speaking, foreign-born and predominantly Asian voters.

McKew and her minders did not want want the usual suspects among the legion of volunteers who offered their services. "Very early on her volunteers were carefully screened to remove all rude, aggressive Howard-hating types," Saville writes.

McKew's campaign, like Rudd's, was methodical and positive.

Labor headquarters sent into action a "crack team" of "Chinese- and Korean-speaking twentysomethings" to liaise with the Asian communities. Saville told the Herald the operatives were groomed through the Young Labor movement and worked the party's Electrac data system incessantly to target Asian voters with emails and visits.

McKew's campaign office secured a phone number that ended in 888 because many Chinese believe 8 to be a lucky number.

Thousands of how-to-vote guides in Chinese and Korean were printed and delivered, as were testimonials from prominent members of the Asian community.

Rudd's own affinity with China, evidenced by his command of Mandarin, was pivotal, as was Howard's earlier attitude to Pauline Hanson's One Nation and his controversial 1988 comments on Asian immigration.

On the last day of the campaign, (Chinese language newspaper) Sing Tao's front page carried the story of the race-hate pamphlet scandal in the seat of Lindsay. Next to it was a story mentioning Howard's 1988 comments.

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Howard knew the Lindsay pamphlet scandal was going to finish him off in Bennelong. That's why he got on the phone himself to try and stop the Tony Abbott approved spin that the pamphlet was nothing more than a "Chaser-style prank" from reaching the media.

But Howard failed, and the absurd claim that the virulently inflammatory pamphlet was but a joke guaranteed the scandal's place as the lead news story for the last two days before the election, and a front page position on nearly every newspaper in the country.

A fitting end indeed for a prime minister who knowingly, and enthusiastically, stirred up race hate throughout his political career, and did it with a knowing smile.