Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Not-A-Poll: Worst Opposition Leader Of The Last 45 Years: Grand Final!

Oh yes, there was actually a book about these two!
Latham 158 - Downer 141
Grand Final: Abbott vs Latham

Welcome back to the final round of our exciting but brief quest to find this site's pick for worst opposition leader of the last 45 years.  We started by splitting the field into two groups, those who at some stage had been PM and those who had not yet been PM.  Tony Abbott cleaned up the former with an outright majority in round 1, while the latter was a closer contest.

The Latham-Downer stoush showed why I run these things for a month.  Downer led out of the blocks by a surprisingly large margin given Latham's primary vote lead from the first round.  But after a while Latham started gradually catching up.  After 23 days Latham took the lead, and his lead continued to grow; in the end it was close but not super-close (52.8% to Latham, about what John Howard beat him by in 2004).

So it comes down to this.  I stated the case for (or should that be against) Latham last time.  Regarding Abbott, his credentials as a bad opposition leader are seriously dented by the fact that he won an election and won it big, but it's unclear how much credit we should give him for that.  In tactical terms, he did steer the Coalition back to competitiveness by opposing Labor on emissions trading, and it might be that everything Labor did from there was self-inflicted as a result of internal tensions between a factional system and a self-styled presidential leader.  Abbott opponents may also argue that it's not just about whether you win or lose but above all about how you play the game, and I'm not sure those who want to take that line need me to provide examples (or that I have time to list them all.)  As with Latham, I suspect Abbott's post-OL performance taints his legacy as Opposition Leader, though in my view he was actually a much more harmless PM than he could have been.

In comments, reader Carl adds another relevant criterion: that good or bad Opposition Leadership in a tactical sense is not only about whether you win, but also the extent to which your victory limits you. 

Voting is open in the sidebar now and continues til 6 pm 31 August.


  1. Hmmmm. I'm having a problem trying to define "worst". Worst as LotO, ie worst for his party, or worst for the country? I think you can provisionally count me as voting for a draw between the two, though I'll continue to think about it for a month.

    1. Yes, this is a bit of a tension with this series. "Worst" seems more ambiguous than "best". I've chosen not to put limits on how people conceive of it.

  2. I can see the header for not a poll but nothing else. Anyone else having this problem? BTW I'm using firefox

  3. I voted for Latham because he was a bad opposition leader. He had plenty of ammo to use and he made some incredibly mistakes, costing him the election.
    Tony Abbott was also bad but despite the fact that I disagree with him on almost everything, he was an 'effective' opposition leader (OK he had the Murdoch press helping him) but regardless, his message got through and the government was unable to counter it. The fact that I disagree with Tony Abbott 's behaviour and policy doesn't make him a bad opposition leader, its completely irrelevant really.
    The fact is that Tony made the most of his opportunity, and Mark Latham fluffed it. Given Mr Latham's more recent activities, I can't help but feel some level of relief that he was never PM.

  4. Latham and Abbott are an interesting comparison because they were bad opposition leaders in very different ways. Latham was a bad opposition leader because he lead Labor to defeat when they really should have won, while Abbott was a bad opposition leader because he lead a campaign that sabotaged his own government.

    As opposition leader, Abbott was way too light on actual policies and he made so many promises he clearly had no intention of holding (e.g. "no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS"). His first budget will probably go down in history as one of the most unpopular of all time in large part because of that. The Coalition still could have easily won the 2013 election if they'd gone in with a clear policy platform and without making a bunch of false promises, and then they would have had a much stronger mandate in government.

    1. That is a very useful criterion there ("campaign that sabotaged his own government.") - ie even if you are rating OLs tactically, it's not all just about winning. I've added a note referencing that comment to the article.