One good poll doesn’t mean you’re getting re-elected
Political leaders rarely comment on opinion polls unless that is, they need to.
Plainly, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan have decided they need to right now to dissuade waverers from entertaining a return to Kevin Rudd.
Without directly mentioning the former PM or Monday’s favourable polls (that would have been crass), Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan told colleagues that Labor was on the way back adding that Tony Abbott’s Coalition would “splinter” under sustained pressure from a rejuvenated government.
And the buoyant Treasurer, standing in for Julia Gillard who was in Perth for the funeral of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, went further.
“He said clearly there was some wind at our back,’’ a Caucus spokesman dutifully reported.
Mr Abbott may have been the stated subject of the comments, but the embedded message was for internal consumption: to wit, the case for sticking with the current leadership.
Swan’s uncommonly triumphant tone followed two national polls (Nielsen and Newspoll) which together confirmed a Labor recovery is indeed underway.
That is music to the ears of long-depressed Labor MPs but has had the opposite effect in the Coalition, which is now calling for unity after some Barnaby Joyce-led untidiness recently. It is also complaining of dirty pool with frontbenchers immediately linking “unreasonable” personal attacks on Mr Abbott’s student past with the poll slump.
But Mr Swan, who’s been working assiduously all year to reconnect with the Labor base - witness his attacks on billionaires and his Bruce Springsteen speech - said Abbott had made himself fair game.
“No political leader had injected more venom and aggression into political life than Tony Abbott since he became Opposition leader,” he told MPs.
Warming to his theme, he then upped the ante on the character assassination stakes declaring Mr Abbott’s singular focus on the carbon tax as a jobs and economy destroyer had exposed him as fraudulent and left him embarrassed.
“Abbott had run around the country as Chicken Little prior to July 1, and last week he was just a chicken,’’ he told the Labor faithful.
“If we continue to pressure them, they will splinter,’’ he said declaring they had little more than a “day-to-day strategy… held together by chewing gum’‘.
Of course, it may ultimately be Mr Swan who ends up embarrassed if the recovery stalls again as some within Labor think it might.
Newspoll put support on a two-party-preferred basis at 50/50 between Labor and the Coalition - a dramatic turn-around from recent months. It showed Ms Gillard leading Mr Abbott as preferred PM by 46 per cent to 32.
One month ago the two were level pegging.
However the Nielsen poll published in Fairfax newspapers, while charting a steady rise in Labor’s primary support, still has it well short of victory.
Pointedly yesterday, Mr Rudd entered the debate to reinforce his delight at Labor’s apparent competitiveness. It seems coded messages are everywhere.
What is clear through all the double-meanings is that Gillard-Swan team’s best chances of forestalling another Rudd challenge turn on convincing enough MPs they can hold their seats.
“MPs’ enthusiasm for a risky leadership change evaporates pretty quickly when they’re back on track to win themselves,’’ one senior Gillard supporter noted dryly.
Good polls are the necessary sign-posts along that happy road but using them openly is hardly risk-free and the current leadership is surely aware of the old adage: live by the sword, die by the sword.
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