From ”unelectable” as prime minister to the brink of becoming prime minister-elect?

No this post is not about any one in the Labour party it is about how Tony Abbott has made a remarkable turn around.

It shows that Tony Abbott has something that David Shearer lacked…something that Helen Clark alluded to the other day in the Nelson Mail.

It is also something Labour should remember if they think they are going to walk into power in 2014.

As a democratic nation decides to change government, there are two thresholds it must cross. First, it has to conclude that the incumbent should go. Next it has to decide that it can accept the alternative.

At the last election, Australia crossed the first threshold but not the second. The result was a hung parliament.

Has Australian crossed the second threshold?

There are three other telling facts. First, most voters already thought that the Coalition was likely to win, and today even more think so. Yet support for the Coalition continues to firm.

In other words, the electorate is growing accustomed to the idea of a Coalition win. Seven out of 10 expect it; only two out of 10 expect a Labor win. Yet this thought isn’t producing any sign of revulsion but only a clearer Coalition lead.

Another telling fact is that Abbott himself is being re-rated. ”Tony Abbott’s approval rating continues to improve, while Kevin Rudd’s continues to deteriorate,” says the Fairfax pollster, Nielsen’s John Stirton.

Abbott leads Rudd on the question of trustworthiness.  

Third is the question of who’s preferred by the people as prime minister. This indicator is a big tell-tale.

Every opposition leader who has gone on to win an election and become prime minister in the 40 years of the Nielsen poll series has gone to the election rated as preferred prime minister.

This is something Abbott has never achieved against Rudd; he’s always lagged well behind. But he is closing in. In the last two weeks he’s gone from being 8 percentage points behind Rudd to being 3 points behind.

It would seem that Australia is about to change governments.

How did this happen? How did Abbott go from ”unelectable” as prime minister to being on the brink of becoming prime minister-elect?

He has made a deliberate effort to throw the switch from negative to positive, from angry opposition leader to measured potential prime minister. But he couldn’t have pulled it off without Labor.

We saw Angry David…it didn’t resonate. We saw the same from Phil Goff, but he still pulls out the vein poppers every now and then.

The ABC’s Kerry O’Brien put it to Abbott that he’d been given a ”very shaky mandate to lead a deeply divided party”. Abbott replied: ”I am confident that what looked like deep divisions were more a function of us being asked to go against our natural instincts to support a government.

”Now, the natural instincts of an opposition are to oppose a government, particularly a government that’s proposing a $120 billion new tax.”

Abbott was signalling his intention to entrench himself in the leadership by taking an aggressive oppositionist approach, the one Labor came to call ”relentless negativity”. That’s exactly what it was. The journalist David Marr colourfully called it his ”junkyard dog” routine.

As a member of the Abbott coterie puts it: ”The most important thing is that you have to have unity and discipline, and that was very hard after losing power and losing John Howard.

”Tony needed to secure his leadership. To do that, before anything else, his job was to be competitive” against Labor. ”All the way through it was to keep maximum pressure on Labor and see what buckled. And everything buckled.”

Heh, yes they have….but it has worked for Abbott and it failed for Goff and for Shearer.

In other words, Abbott’s angry offensive against Labor was actually a defensive policy for protecting his own leadership against attack from within. And it worked.

The ferociousness of Abbott’s attacks panicked Labor into running from its own solemn promise to implement an emissions trading scheme, then panicked it into cutting down its own leader.

Now Abbott is poised to become Prime Minister.

Rudd chose to go overwhelmingly negative. At a press conference on Wednesday, for instance, Rudd opened with a 900-word pitch on Labor’s hospitals policy, then spent more than 1500 attacking Abbott’s.

This doesn’t work for Rudd. This is not the Rudd that voters know or want. His approval rating has been dropping like a stone. And it’s not what his party needs. Labor’s problem is a big and growing shortfall on its primary vote. It cannot turn this around with a scare campaign. But it works nicely for Abbott. It makes it easier for him to appear more prime ministerial.

The crossover point was achieved in the Brisbane debate this week where Abbott was Mr Positive and Rudd overwhelmingly negative. Abbott was broadly assuring. In his manner and in his message, he conveyed confidence and a commonsense reasonableness. This is exactly what the electorate needs to see in its putative prime minister.

Rudd’s scare campaign is failing.

  • Michael

    I remember Clark and Labour going negative on John Key in 2008. People just didn’t take them seriously then and no one knew what Labour stood for, except that they didn’t like John Key. Sounds like Labor are falling into the same trap. A coherent policy programme will always out smart a wholly negative campaign.

    • http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/ Petal

      And both Labour and Greens (but especially the Greens) are trying to hang EVERYTHING on John Key even now. They are in denial.

      • thor42

        Yep. Labour have learned absolutely *nothing* from their last two election defeats. Every time, it’s the same old story – “oh, we didn’t get our message across.”

        Yes you did and we understood you perfectly. That’s why we kicked your sorry backsides out in 2008, and we *still remember*.

        • AngryTory

          actually we kicked ‘em out in 05 but they stole the election back.

    • AngryTory

      A coherent policy programme will always out smart a wholly negative campaign.

      Labour has no space for a “coherent policy programme”. Key has already enacted most of the policies they were planning to fight the election on (rail froot loop, school meals, affordable houses) — and the only polices they’ve got left, things like a (far too timid) increase in the pension age — are to the right of Key’s National party.

    • blairmulholland

      They fell into the trap of trying to take down the opposition’s biggest asset, rather that hacking away at the weaknesses. Without fail that will lose you an election. They are still making the same mistake. National have holes you could drive a truck through, but they are so focused on their hatred for John Key that they think attacking him will resonate.

  • Mr_Blobby

    I think the point is that Governments don’t win elections they are already the Government, elections are theirs to lose.

    • http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/ Whaleoil

      And conditions for change have to exist, right now in New Zealand those conditions don’t exist and the usual things like the economy etc are all on the improve.

      • Mr_Blobby

        Yes well done Whaleboy. That has to be the most lucid and sensible thing you have said this week.

        On the face of it the indicators that are highlighted do show things on the up and up, and that may be the case.

        Even in a booming economy there will be more sectors doing well but there will always be those on the way down.

        But scratch below the surface and you have an unsustainable housing bubble, increasing debt both private and public, you don’t have to look very far.

        In short to me it looks like we are, as a Nation, spending more than we earn, short term this smooths out the highs and lows but is not a long term solution. At some stage debt has to be repaid, if not it will become unaffordable and debt that cant be repaid wont be repaid. Have a look at southern Europe

        As part of the Global financial system whats affects the US and the EU will have an impact on us. This is outside of our control.

        Whilst we sleepwalk along one day we could and I say could be blindsided and wonder were did that come from, never saw it coming.

        Did you see the last melt down happening or like most people, wake up one morning turned on the TV and wondered did this just all happen overnight.

        • AngryTory

          But scratch below the surface and you have an unsustainable housing bubble, increasing debt both private and public, you don’t have to look very far.

          hell yeah.

          In short to me it looks like we are, as a Nation, spending more than we earn, short term this smooths out the highs and lows but is not a long term solution. At some stage debt has to be repaid, if not it will become unaffordable and debt that cant

          couldn’t have said it better myself.

          • Mr_Blobby

            Careful Angry Tory, you might fall foul of the Troglodytes and their Dogma infesting this site at the moment.

            Forgive them for they know not what they do.

        • AnonWgtn

          Yawn !

      • AngryTory

        usual things like the economy etc are all on the improve.

        actually no, we’re still borrowing, we’re deeply in the shit, our employment laws are union ridden, a huge percentage of the population is on the bludger as a government employee or on the benefit..

        And Key’s done absolutely nothing about any of this.

    • Mr_Blobby

      Well well down votes, perhaps the 2 troglodytes would like to explain what they did not like about that statement.

      • Hazards001

        Bankers…don’t like the words “pay off debt”

  • Macca

    The left and the media are doing everything they can to try and hang National here in NZ. Their problem is, when asked what they would do, they have NOTHING! This is why a change of leader will not help the left. National has solid, very well researched and thought out policy. Labours, the media and the Greens attacks are futile and just make them look stupid.
    The left also have no hope of attempting to be positive. To the right, this comes naturally as most are self made go getters. The left know no other way as this is what they have used to lock in their core voters.
    Is this the same left that Hullun headed when she said Key would embarrass us on the world stage? Maybe she neglected to view the tapes of her ridiculous stiff armed walk whilst in China.
    A passing thought – can anyone imagine how Robertson, Silent and/or Little would deal with China over Fonterra etc…..let’s not!

    • AngryTory

      National has solid, very well researched and thought out policy

      yeah sure. like, you know:
      Whanau Ora
      UNDRIP
      School Meals
      Affordable Houses
      Rail Froot Loop
      Gay Marriage

      For the last five years, National has been governing significantly to the left of Helen Clark’s Labour party.

  • AngryTory

    At the last election, Australia crossed the first threshold but not the second.

    According to the MSM. Actually Australia crossed both thresholds at the last two elections – certainly the previous election was actually won by Abbott and then stolen by Labour.

    The good news is that Abbott isn’t a leftist like Key – but the real deal: union hating, Labour hating, impatient to make real lasting changes in Oz!

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