Thursday, August 5, 2010

Two Dogs…

As James Grubel, the senior political correspondent from Reuters, said today, this is becoming a most unusual election in that it now appears to have two underdogs. Historically speaking, a Tony Abbott victory might seem to be unlikely for a number of reasons. Simply by being in opposition he is already starting out from behind, needing a significant swing to win enough seats to take power. Secondly, it would be highly unusual for any government to lose office after just one term. Even Gough Whitlam managed to win two elections before being sacked by the Governor General in 1975. Thirdly, for all the shortcomings of the government, the opposition isn’t exactly immune from fumbles and stumbles of their own. For all these reasons, Tony Abbott could rightly expect to be considered the underdog. But this is no ordinary election.

History might mean nothing, because history has already been made by the Labor Government’s own unprecedented decision to cut down a first term Prime Minister, taking all of us into uncharted territory. Just how voters respond to the lingering disquiet that they have somehow been robbed of the right to make their own choice can still play a big part in deciding the outcome of this election. That the leadership change was itself triggered by a decline in support for the Government in the polls has become something of an irony with those same polls now delivering even worse news for the new Prime Minister. With the polls showing Labor ranking at best level with the Coalition, and at worst well behind, it now seems that Julia Gillard has become the underdog.

Thomson Reuters Poll Trend Analysis shows that boiling down all the major poll figures gives the Government a two party preferred figure of 51.5% and the Opposition 48.5%. On those figures the Government might just scrape back into office, but it is by no means guaranteed. There is a risk that there will be a hung Parliament with independent members, and maybe even a Green, holding the balance of power in the lower house, something which hasn’t happened since 1941. There is also the prospect that the Government might be ahead on the two party preferred popular vote but still lose the election anyway. It has happened before with both Kim Beazley and Andrew Peacock winning more than 50% of the vote, but still not securing enough seats to take government.

In this environment, it is conceivable the entire fate of the nation could hinge on the most unlikely of circumstances. It could be that voters in a handful of marginal electorates could swing one way or the other based on local issues. It could be that opinions about the Prime Minister’s religious views or marital status actually do make a difference to the outcome. It could be that resentment over the treatment of Kevin Rudd is enough to tip the balance. That’s why Mr. Rudd’s decision to break his silence and unreservedly support the Gillard Government is crucially important for Labor. It won’t necessarily remove all concerns over the impact of the ghost of his leadership hanging over the campaign, but no matter what he does, or even if he does nothing, Kevin Rudd will remain an influence over this election.

That’s why, as a Labor Party member, the best thing he can do is attempt to use that influence for the benefit of the Party.

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