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.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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