16 May 2007

Playing Politics With The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama's looming visit has triggered an interesting little cat-and-mouse skirmish between Rudd and Howard, which typifies how this election battle is unfolding. Much the same thing is happening with AWA's right now.

The Great Dalai Lama Drama began when Howard's office said the exiled Tibetan leader would not get a parliamentary reception. Most observers (including me and Kev Rudd) assumed that this snub meant Howard would not be meeting the Dalai Lama. So Rudd rather foolishly declared that he would not meet the Dalai Lama either. But then Howard said he hadn't ruled out meeting the Dalai Lama, he was just "checking his diary" (heh) to see if he could find the time. So now Rudd has done a double-quick backflip and says he will meet the Dalai Lama after all.

The ball is back in Howard's court. My guess is he will take the opportunity to brand Rudd a tree-hugging lunatic who doesn't understand the importance of our "close friendship" with China (never mind that Rudd speaks Mandarin).

Rudd's decision not to meet the Dalai Lama actually smacked of arrogance, which appears to be his Achilles Heel. He has repeatedly said that the next election will be tight and he takes nothing for granted, but he obviously felt he had enough "political capital" to ignore popular sentiment in the suburbs and suck up to local business leaders and their financial enablers in Beijing.

The backflip also highlights the threat to Labour posed by the Greens, who have consistently maintained the moral high ground on important issues like global warming and the Iraq War. Given the importance of those issues today, the Green Vote this year will likely be very significant, and could even be enough to block a Labour win. Rudd needs to watch that carefully: Bob Brown has certainly gotten some great press out of this particular drama.

On the other hand, nobody expects anything but "clever" morality-free politics from Howard. We all know he would happily meet the Dalai Lama and even kiss his ass on camera if it would help him cling to power. And his supporters would happily applaud either way, as long as they could see the rat cunning logic of the move.