When I was studying European history as an undergraduate several decades ago, one of the truisms was that the many strategic errors of military generals could often be explained by their tendency to fight the last war again rather than the new one.
Those generals were heavily involved in the previous war, often it was the formative influence in their careers, and they has learnt the lessons of the last war very well. They understood, perhaps hoped, that this war would be a rerun of the last war, a war for which they were - now - well prepared to fight.
I have noticed in the commentary about the ALP's forthcoming decision on carbon pricing - whether to support the new government's repeal legislation - a certain resonance with the attitudes of those generals.
Most commentators seem to accept a trio of fairly dubious propositions:
1. The ALP's defeat at the last election owed a lot to the unpopularity of carbon pricing, perhaps even as Abbott suggests that the 2013 election was a referendum on carbon pricing.
2. The Australian electorate is overwhelmingly opposed to carbon pricing.
3. Thse attitudes are unlikely to change in the future.
Accepting these three propositions allows your average political pundit to project forward three years and pronounce labor dead in the water at the next election if it does not immediately 'repent'.
Even if you accept these propositions, which I don't, there is still a leap of faith required to get to the position that the 2016 election will somehow be a rerun of this year's election.
Victorious political parties, and interest groups, have a vested interest in seeing the next election as a rerun of the last triumph.
The union movement has tried repeatedly to get a redux of the 'glorious' 2007 anti-workchoices campaign off and running, with little success.
I remember the view amongst many senior labor people in 1993 was that this improbable victory had vanquished the Libs for several elections (I have heard tell that at least a few very senior Libs held the same view). Instead, Howard won in a canter in 1996. Did Keating win the 1993 election by default because Hewson was a 'scary' economic radical, a bridge too far for an electorate already scarred by labor's more circumspect embrace of neo-liberal policies.
The ALP came close to beating Howard in 1998 and hoped that its GST roll back scheme might do the trick in 2001. But the world changed, and the big new issue was Tampa and all that has followed from that.
In 2004, the big new issue was 'who do you trust on interest rates', but also 'we will determine etc.' Perhaps, the ALP contributed to its own defeat with some poor policies on health and education, and a nutjob as leader. Who knows the weight we should put on these and other factors.
The popular histories of election campaigns always look more inevitable and straightforward in hindsight than they really are.
As Tolstoy made clear in 'War and Peace', everything is a lot messier on the battlefield than the generals imagine or pretend.
These campaign accounts are invariably written by story-tellers who want to provide their audience with an appealing, coherent narrative.
Yes folks, they say, it is all simple and it all makes sense - just buy my book.
The truth is that it is very difficult to know what was decisive in the last election, or any previous election, there is always a range of issues, and perceptions about parties and leaders.
The one truism seems to be that the next election is never be just, or primarily, a rerun of the past election.
Political strategists, like military generals, should always bear that in mind.
This time round there is an even greater degree of uncertainty because the media environment is changing so rapidly - three years is a long, long time in the media these days. How many of our newspapers will be extinct by 2016?
These media changes will throw up new campaigning strategies and tactics, which will only make those popular election potboilers even more delusional.
As for all those people boldly predicting the issues the next federal election will be fought on ... its just comforting, complacent, column-filling rubbish.