03 August 2010

Julia Gillard is no strategist

No-one could accuse Julia Gillard of being a strategist.

Had she taken more interest in national security affairs she might have become acquainted with The Art of War, the manual attributed to the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, a work which to this day is required reading for anyone with aspirations to be a strategist, and which contains much wisdom for anyone engaged in a high level adversarial contest.

Her behaviour so far in the election campaign has violated at least three important principles enunciated by Sun Tzu about 2,500 years ago:

 (1)   Not underestimating the enemy:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles (III, 18).

(2)    Not revealing your strategy, to the enemy or even to your own foot soldiers:

These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand (I, 25)

Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know your design (XI, 57).

(3)    The advantages of deception and surprise – in the formulation popularly attributed to Sun Tzu:

Make a loud noise in the east and attack from the west.

Regarding the first point, the Gillard campaign team made, and became dependent upon, two lazy assumptions: that Tony Abbott was “unelectable” (i.e. that no-one would want him as Prime Minister), and that he would at some stage of the campaign “implode”.

The problems with this approach are that they could not know the first, they seem to have had no Plan B for a scenario in which the second didn’t eventuate, and neither is under the direct control of the Labor Party.

Regarding points (2) and (3) above, Ms Gillard’s decision yesterday to announce that she is taking control of the campaign and we are henceforth going to see more of the “real” Julia Gillard is nothing short of bizarre. It lent credence to the proposition that she was under the control of others and handed Tony Abbott several clubs to beat her with (“Who is the real Julia Gillard?” and “If she wasn’t in control of the campaign before it must have been the faceless men”).

It was a public declaration of no confidence in her campaign team.

And it took away all element of surprise by telegraphing in advance a change of strategy. 

If there were dissatisfaction with the way the campaign is running, and a perceived need to change the strategy, it would have been far smarter to slap ears in private, and let the new campaign strategy emerge at the appropriate time, creating at least some opportunity to steal a march on the Opposition and leave them to figure out what they are now dealing with and react.

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