NEWS AND VIEWS
Monday, 23 July 2007
Secret Polls and Not So Secret Loyalty
Whatever else people might accuse Glenn Milne of; a lack of loyalty is not one of the things he is guilty of. The giant of the Sunday tabloids has stuck with his man Peter Costello through the thin and thinner moments of recent years. He was at it again at the weekend with a story so fanciful that I wanted to laugh until I realized that tears were a more appropriate way of marking the retreat of standards in the Murdoch press. For this particular attempt to boost the leadership credentials of Peter Costello supposedly was based on "secret Labor Party polling."
John Howard's "battlers", we were told, have abandoned him and want him gone from politics, according to research that will increase the pressure on the Prime Minister to quit in favour of his deputy, Peter Costello. Milne wrote :
Oh how pleased the Labor Party campaign team must be with themselves. They managed to find someone prepared to spread a little mischief throughout the nation based on nothing more than their say-so of what people had told Labor Party researchers. But Labor knew its man and tailored the message to suit the prejudices which were on display again this morning in The Australian where Milne wrote under the headline " Never too late to pass Libs torch ":
Leaked Labor research over the weekend should give Liberal MPs pause for thought. With findings summarising the electorate's judgment on Howard as "old and sneaky" the private polling reinforces that it is the Prime Minister who is overwhelmingly the problem, not the Government's policies or economic record. Or his relationship with Costello. When it comes to the voters, this time, it seems, it really is personal.
I have written before on this subject of journalists using what purports to be internal party research and have had practical experience in manufacturing findings to suit particular needs. It just never ceases to amaze me that journalists keep falling for it and that editors prostitute their papers by publishing it. At least now I am trying to salve the guilty conscience gained by those years working on Labor Party campaigns by alerting readers to the polls that I used to, and others still do, make up to order for journalists like Glenn Milne
Avoiding the Horse Race
John Howard is on Mark Twain's side if not quite as eloquent. "It is not best that we all should think alike," wrote the American, "it is differences of opinion that make horse races." In his major speech of the weekend, delivered to the NSW State Council of the Liberal Party, Mr Howard spent much of his time bemoaning the fact that Kevin Rudd the Labor Leader was trying hard to stop this election being a horse race at all. The Prime Minister was not referring to the size of the Labor opinion poll lead but the persistence with which Mr Rudd keeps thinking alike.
"You should observe very carefully the behaviour of my opponent," Mr Howard told the party faithful, "because often it's not quite how it appears. Often the case is that we make an announcement which is clearly in the public interest and the Leader of the Opposition immediately says 'I agree with that and I think Mr Howard is right' and people say 'that's good, we should have a positive and not a negative Opposition'. But then things start to change, then others in the Labor Party start to go out and start to run interference on the policy, they start to undermine it, they start to attack it and that's what happens when you have Labor governments everywhere, they can have it both ways."
The exasperation at not being able to "wedge" (to use the current political in-word) Mr Rudd was apparent in the Prime Minister's speech . There was the frustrating example of the national water plan with the promise to solve the problems of the Murray Darling. Mr Rudd agree with it but shadow ministers raised such awkward questions as the absence of proper costing and the avoidance of detailed Cabinet consideration. Mr Howard might have added but didn't the embarrassment that his crash through or crash approach to federalism might still crash because of those pesky Victorians wanting to protect their own state interest.
Then there was protecting aboriginal children from abuse. Mr Rudd agreed it was a good thing but "within two days of my making that announcement, or three days, the Western Australian Premier goes on the Today program and he said this is outrageous, it's another Tampa . In other words, Mr Rudd had got the Western Australian Premier to go out there and say the exact opposite of what he'd been trying to communicate to the Australian people and a few days afterwards the Premier of South Australia Mike Rann went on television and he said oh look this is all shock and awe, which was a clear reference to the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003."
How very unfair! Just like Mr Rudd is playing a double game in the area of national security. "Of course," said Mr Howard, "[he] poses as somebody who always supports what the Government is doing to tighten security and to deal with potential terrorist threats .. He's out there saying I support the Government but he's got some of his underlings out there like the Queensland Premier trying to undermine what the Government is doing."
There is no doubt that Mr Howard is finding the Rudd small target harder to hit than that of his predecessor Kim Beazley.
A Handy Lead Predicted
Participants in the Owl's Pick the Newspoll contest expect no good news for the Coalition when The Australian publishes tomorrow. The entries predict the two party preferred vote of the Coalition will fall to 43% with Labor on 57%. On the question of preferred Prime Minister, support for John Howard is expected to fall by two points to 40% with Kevin Rudd up three at 46% with the remaining 14% in the don't know or couldn't care less column.
The Owl's Election Indicator, meanwhile, continues to move slightly in the direction of Labor with the probability of a Coalition victory currently showing at 43.8% to Labor's 56.2%.