One opinion poll favourable to Labor last week — even as others showed the ALP position deteriorating — and the political chatterati are talking of miracle revivals; but Parliament resumes this week, and as it does Julia Gillard is likely to receive a timely and sobering reality check.
It’s a measure of just how grim the present government’s prospects are that a poll showing it headed to a landslide defeat — and still losing nearly 20 seats to the Liberals and Nationals in the process — can be trumpeted as the harbinger of better times.
Yet that is precisely what happened last week; a Newspoll in The Australian, finding a two-point move back to Labor after preferences and a 54-46 lead to the Coalition, has whipped sections of the mainstream commentariat into a frenzy. Tentative signs of a revival, they say; early evidence that the worst of the carbon tax slump is now behind Gillard — just as she said.
This type of analysis is doggerel, and its currency likely to have been expended within the week.
The very same day Newspoll was delivering Gillard her latest poll-derived stipend of breathing space in the face of ongoing leadership ructions within the Labor Party, Nielsen and Essential were both reporting findings of 56-44 to the Coalition, or another ten seats at an election, to look at it practically; in the case of Essential at least, that result has Labor losing ground, not regaining it.
And — to wheel out a boring old caveat — all of these polls are within each other’s error margin, and so getting too excited over Newspoll probably isn’t the cleverest idea until or unless a sustained trend of improvement has been shown in that poll after another month or so.
Very simply, that isn’t going to happen.
The problem with all of these polls is that Parliament has been in recess; Gillard may be stultifyingly unpopular, but even that sentiment tends to ameliorate to some degree when the lady isn’t being thrust into the faces of voters on a daily basis.
To be sure, there have been other distractions during Parliament’s winter recess this year.
Not least, the Olympic Games, which largely has pushed retail politics off the front pages of newspapers across the world; even the hubbub of “Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea,” engineered by mX in Brisbane with its tongue fairly in cheek, proved to be a storm in the proverbial teacup.
Such international sporting festivals traditionally underpin — temporarily, at least — a much more benign political undercurrent. I think this has been the case to a greater than usual extent this year, as discussion of Australia’s supposedly woeful performance generated great debate and discussion, especially in the earlier stages of the games.
And Gillard probably got in a lucky strike by picking a fight with the Liberal Premiers over power prices; a continuation of an obvious strategy that began with her disability insurance scheme — when she took aim at the same Premiers for effectively refusing to fund her own policy — the attack over power prices was largely ignored in the mainstream media.
The scrutiny — and the counterattack — will resume apace tomorrow.
With the resumption of Parliament tomorrow comes the reapplication of the blowtorch by the opposition, and that means the availability of easy goals and cheap free kicks for Gillard will come to an end.
In its editorial this morning, The Australian opines
“The Prime Minister’s new political strategy seems to hinge on seeking confrontation with the states, choosing fights over the NDIS, mining tax, health reform, carbon tax, electricity prices, and soon, we expect, education funding. Voters will not judge Ms Gillard kindly if these debates are seen to be political games, designed to trumpet her empathy on crucial issues, without delivering results.”
And therein lies the government’s core problem: Gillard might be a clever lawyer, adept at semantics and crucifying an opponent’s case; but her politics are of the confrontational variety, lashing out at scapegoats and shifting blame for her own incompetence, and engaging in half-baked games to score cheap political points that invariably explode in the government’s collective face.
Indeed, the issue of asylum seekers is near the top of the list of issues to be dealt with in the new session of Parliament; already there are whispers of a strategy from the ALP to agree to reopen detention centres on Nauru as a mechanism to ultimately facilitate Gillard’s “Malaysia Solution” in all its half-arsed glory.
Given the Coalition has explicitly ruled out support of any solution to the problem of boat arrivals involving Malaysia under any circumstances whatsoever, it is likely this will ultimately rebound on Gillard in spades.
Added to this is the smouldering issue of Craig Thomson and the attendant issue of union corruption, which is also due back on the running sheet this session — another guaranteed source of discomfiture for the government.
And lingering in the background of all of this is the ongoing tension over the ALP leadership and the spectre of Kevin Rudd; Labor’s need to get rid of Gillard, if it is to have any real hope of winning next year’s election — weighed against the reality that Rudd will never resume the Labor leadership — conspires to further underline the explosive nature of the parliamentary session due to commence.
So if anyone wants to talk in terms of opinion poll bounces and green shoots of revival, where the Labor Party and Julia Gillard are concerned, I’d rather talk in terms of the political vernacular, and describe such a bounce as a “dead cat bounce.”
Then again, “dead orangutan bounce” is probably more apt in this case…
But it doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?