Monday, August 2, 2010

Will The Real Julia Please Stand Up

On Friday I offered the opinion that the first two weeks of the election campaign had been won by Tony Abbott and the opposition. That opinion has been born out by the poll figures released over the weekend, with the credible Neilson poll showing the opposition with a winning lead in the two party preferred vote of 52 to 48 percent. This morning, the Newspoll gave a result which has the two major parties neck and neck at 50 percent each, which represents a dramatic advance for the opposition in past fortnight, and an equally dramatic decline in the fortunes of the Government. On Friday I observed that the Government had lost control of the agenda, and that seems to have been reflected in the polls. In response, the Prime Minister has announced that it is now time to “unleash the Real Julia”, to borrow the headline from today’s Telegraph.

Over the weekend, Julia Gillard said it was time to “make sure the real Julia is well and truly on display”. She said, “I'm going to step up and take personal charge of what we do in the campaign from this point". Maybe that’s a good idea, given the difficulty that seems to have overcome the Government, but it does raise a couple of very curly questions. If Julia has not been in charge of the campaign up until now, just who exactly has? And if it’s time to unleash the “Real Julia”, does that mean the Julia we have been watching is some sort of fake? After sternly warning all Australians to beware of falling for the forked tongue of “Phony Tony”, talk of the “Real Julia” could be seen as somewhat precious.

Of course, the truth is that the “Real Julia” has been there all along, but any political campaign is run by the Party, not just the Leader. In this case, the Party is still being driven by the very same people who decided to dismiss Kevin Rudd and install Julia Gillard as Prime Minister in June. Those people, including Senator Mark Arbib and Party Secretary Karl Bitar, are also responsible for coaching and grooming the Leader, whoever it might be, to lead the campaign. And that’s where the lines can become blurred. How much of what we see, of any politician, is the real person and how much is the focus group driven result of polling can become difficult to determine. What Ms. Gillard seems to be telling us is that for a while there even she had trouble telling the difference between the two.

Regardless of just who is really running the campaign, or whether the ‘Real Julia” will now step up, there’s a very good chance that it’s already too late to make a difference. The underlying disquiet about the ability of a Party to callously discard a Leader in an apparent attempt to win at all costs has only been amplified by the events of the past fortnight. After displaying contempt not only for their own former Leader, but also for the people who voted for him three years ago, the Party now appears to be desperate to appear not to be desperate. With almost three weeks of the campaign still to run, it’s too soon to say that they have lost the election, but unless there is a dramatic turnaround that will be the outcome. Labor hasn’t yet fallen to the bottom of the cliff, but they have tripped at the top.

If they don’t grab a safety rail there can only be one result.

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