NEWS AND VIEWS
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
If not Howard then who?
Is it me? asked John Howard of Cabinet colleagues.
According to the version leaked to journalists, no minister leaned forward to answer "yes" to the Prime Minister's musings about whether he was to blame for Coalition's low standing in the opinion polls.
"Not me but we then" is what John Howard must have concluded from the response. Certainly no-one present was prepared to suggest that another leader would have a better chance of success. The Coalition Cabinet does not contain some sure-fire vote winner and the members know it.
All there is in the wings is Peter Costello and the same pollsters pointing to a humiliating defeat later this year say that the Treasurer would do worse than Mr Howard rather than better. It certainly would be easy to argue the case that Mr Costello is every bit as responsible for the current Labor advantage as his leader. The Government re-election campaign is based around a record of solid economic achievement and for 11 years economic management has been portrayed as a Howard-Costello double act. If there is resentment among the Howard battlers that they are not getting a fair share of the vaunted prosperity, as Mr Howard seemed to be acknowledging yesterday, substituting one half of the double act for the other will not change the sentiment.
As more and more references are made to Mr Howard's age it is quite likely that some voters - perhaps a substantial proportion - believe this time that a vote for Howard is really a vote for Costello and that the lower support for the Liberals in the polls is partly a result of that belief. Before the last election the Liberals cleverly found a form of words to negate Labor claims that people were being asked to elect a lame duck Prime Minister. Three years on and every little memory lapse, every little sign of ageing, makes it less plausible to hint that the formula of saying "I will stay leader as long as my party wants me to" means that Mr Howard might actually serve for a full three year term if re-elected. As this election day gets closer the suggestion that a vote for Howard is a vote for Costello will get stronger.
In this circumstance a pragmatic member of Cabinet would perhaps have the courage to say that the Government would be better served by having Mr Costello as the real leader rather than the de facto one. A report in the Melbourne Age this morning claims that there are now backbenchers in that category, albeit ones without the conviction to put their names to the leadership speculation. Perhaps their courage will grow as they spend the remaining weeks campaigning in their electorates before Parliament returns to Canberra . Nothing is better designed to provide strength to politicians than a message from their own constituents that they are about to lose their seat. This winter break could not have come at a worse time for Howard supporters coinciding as it has with a succession of unfavourable opinion poll results.
It is never too late to change the leader as the veteran backbencher Wilson Tuckey keeps reminding his Liberal colleagues but finding the replacement remains the problem. If it is the old guard that currently is being rejected then finding a potential winner means choosing someone comparatively inexperienced like Malcolm Turnbull.
That would be a risky strategy in some ways but trying to find long-shot winners is by definition risky. It gets down to Government MPs in marginal seats (and the current polls suggest that there are many in that category) deciding whether a risky course with an outside chance of keeping access to the white car is better than the safe option which provides no chance of staying in office.
I doubt that we have read the last leadership speculation story.
Help Is Needed, Please Enter
We have had some interesting results in our little experiment in trying to predict what the fortnightly Newspoll will show with our predictions being close to spot on. As well as being a bit of fun that lets someone win a dozen bottles of wine kindly donated by my brother David's glug.com.au website, there is a serious point to the exercise. We are testing whether the collective wisdom of a group of people who think about politics really can assess how ordinary people are reacting to political events. In the interests of aiding the research effort I hope that my readers will take the time to put in an entry at the Newspoll Tipping Contest . And it has been quite depressing for me, incidentally, that there has not been an Owl reader among the three initial winners. I expect better of you!
PS - the wines for the winner are great drinking!
The Complete Form Guide
When a bookmaker has Labor favourite to win the election but his prices on individual seats show that Labor would not win enough seats to do so there should be an opportunity to make a little profit. Hence today's publication of an Australian federal election form guide giving an assessment of the chances of Labor and Non-Labor winning each individual seat. Where Sportingbet is quoting a price for an individual electorate it is shown as well.
I have assumed that the Owl's Election Indicator (based on Betfair) is a correct assessment with the ALP a 54.8% chance of winning. That would result in the ALP winning 77 seats to non-Labor's 73 seats. The opinion polls are currently showing the ALP winning around 94 seats which points to a winning chance of around 90%!
Seats with the grey shading are the ones where my assessment is that the bookies market is sufficiently wrong (10% or more) to make a bet worthwhile.