Mungo MacCallum

[missing asset] Mungo MacCallum is one of Australia’s longest-serving political commentators (40 years and counting), as well as one of its wittiest and most passionate. He is one of the hardy souls to have written and published a book about the 2007 election at lightning speed: Poll Dancing (Black Inc., PB, $24.95). Readings spoke to him about the campaign, the result and the book.

What made you decide to write a book about this particular election? Were you confident that there was a strong chance of a change in government?

I was certainly hoping for a change of government, both personally and commercially. In 2004 I wrote Run Johnny Run in the same spirit and was disappointed. This time I thought there was a better chance, but was still relieved at the happy ending.

What surprised you most about this election campaign?

The strange thing about this election was both the huge emphasis on polling (hence the title) and its consistency. Given the relatively benign state of the economy and the lack of any passionate hatred of John Howard (except, of course, among the so-called elites – the word lost its original meaning entirely and came to be a synonym for Howard-hater) the normal conditions for a big swing should not have been there. But the numbers barely changed over nearly a year.

What was your favourite moment of the campaign?

The result.

What do you think were the most important issues during this election – what do you think people voted on?

In retrospect, it’s clear that people were simply sick of the government; Howard, Costello, Downer and the rest had passed their use-by date, but neither they nor the commentators had noticed. Howard was never really loved, but he had been accepted as more reliable than the alternatives on offer. All Rudd had to do was match him, and he did.

The ‘It’s Time’ factor was widely cited as something that acted in the ALP’s favour during this election campaign. You were active in the first ‘It’s Time’ election. Do you see many similarities between then and now?

In 1972 there was genuine anticipation of a new dawn; the sixties had finally arrived in Australia in the early seventies, and there was a feeling that politics was at last going to catch up with the huge social changes that were taking place. Whitlam offered massive reforms across the board and the mood was optimistic and enthusiastic; the sky was the limit. Rudd, of course, is a proud conservative, not even a sheep in wolf’s clothing. No one is expecting the earth to shift; most will be satisfied as long as he doesn’t stuff things up. When Labor won in 1972 it was exhilarating, exultant; in 2007 it was just a great relief.

What were you doing on election night?

Hosting a party, watching the ABC and drinking quite a lot of sauvignon blanc (don’t call me a chardonnay socialist.)

Finish this sentence: ‘*Poll Dancing* is the book for you if …’

Poll Dancing is the book for you if you are a bleeding heart elitist member of the intelligentsia and proud of it, and you just want to know how you suddenly found yourself on the winning side.