It’s the timeless sales pitch for joining a political party: A megaphone and bad hair will only get you so far, the real way to effect political change is from ‘inside the tent’.
But when it comes to politics, we’re not happy campers. Membership of mainstream political parties is on the slide, with Labor’s shrinking and disaffected base a key area of debate during the weekend’s National Conference.
Essential polling this week shows meeting the Prime Minister’s target of 8,000 new members this year will be a serious challenge for the party. In fact, to achieve the target will mean improving the current performance by a factor of about 8,000.
This week we asked about membership of all sorts of social, community, recreational and political organisations and of all these categories, it is the political parties that are suffering the most.
Amidst the industrial carnage wrought by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last week was a brief glimpse of what survival for the Gillard Government might look like.
It would start with a corporate leader arrogantly putting his commercial interests ahead of the national interest, to the cheers of his fellow CEOs.
It would move into a debate about whether loyal Australian workers had a right to expect any sort of say in the way their workplace was run; or whether they should be forced to cop whatever the latest management team cooked up.
It would give voice to the federal front bench, for once united on a matter of principle they truly believed in, providing a platform to speak up for the values of their movement.
And it would end with the Federal Opposition, stripped of any pretence of policy, in a tangle over the WorkChoices bogey, simply barracking for the big end of town because that is what they are conditioned to do.
With popular culture now having entered the prime ministerial bedroom, it’s hardly stepping over the line to offer a few suggestions on what our besieged leader should be getting out at the Yarralumla video shop.
While the poll numbers look like the stuff of a horror movie the PM can draw inspiration from an entire genre of survivalist films that dramatise real-life encounters with oblivion and celebrate the way the human spirit can rise to any challenge.
Most of these movies start with a moment of sunshine and light before fate strikes and the odds begin to stack up against the protagonist. So it is with this week’s Essential Report.
The sad irony for a government struggling for love is that the disputed use of a credit card to fill the emotional void of person or persons unnamed now threatens to end its rule prematurely.
But the bittersweet truth for the Gillard Government is that, while they are being absolutely smashed politically, the bulk of their policies actually have broad public support.
This week’s Essential Report shows that, save asylum seekers and climate change, just about everything the Government has done since the last election and is planning to do is, if it maintains power, backed by the electorate.
When Labor governments get into strife they call for the doctor, knowing that the management of the health system is one of the areas of policy where the ALP enjoys a strong brand advantage.
The defining image of Kevin Rudd’s final days as leader was his lap of the nation in scrubs with a constant flow of picture opps: it worked for a while, the polls recovering and 58 per cent supporting his reforms.
But in a sign of the hole the Government is now in, even health is proving a barren battleground with the Government lagging behind the Coalition as the party trusted to handle health amidst general confusion about what the latest reform package is all about.
Tony Abbott’s attempts to turn the nation’s richest households into welfare victims has resulted in a self-inflicted political wedge that turns the Coalition’s creed of self-sufficiency onto its own support base.
It was the sideshow of budget week, reporters scouring the nation for hard-working Aussie families, victims of Labor’s decision to finally begin winding back the system of universal direct cash payments that became a feature of the Howard years.
Manufacturing outrage at the moves to cap payments to families on incomes of under $150,000 was always a big ask; after all a constituency of 15 per cent – concentrated at levels far above the threshold – is hardly a mass movement.
As results from this week’s Essential Report show, the measures had the majority support of not just Labor and Green voters, but also Coalition voters and families earning above the threshold.
The compelling narrative emerging from the Canberra Press Gallery is that Labor is dead, Gillard is a dud leader and the whole show should put itself out of its misery and hand power to the Coalition.
It’s a message reinforced with the release of each major opinion poll; take this week ‘Budget falls flat’, ‘Gillard on the nose’, ‘More troubles with boatpeople’.
The problem is that polls and analysis are completely different beasts and if you judge the national debate purely on the numbers, there is a very different story – a government weighed down by a major reform, stabilising in key areas.
1. Preferred Party
The Coalition has an election-winning lead, but it is two years out from the election. The polling numbers have been stable since the announcement of the carbon tax – proof that Labor requires a long game if it is to win the next election.
This week’s Essential Report actually picks up a minor bounce to Labor, exaggerated by some rounding issues, but like the other polls, Labor is behind but not miles behind.
|2PP||Election 21.8.10||4 weeks ago||2 weeks ago||Last week||This week|
Pollsters are regularly accused of treating politics like a sporting contest, so given there is no fresh data over Easter it’s time to indulge our inner footy fantasy.
Easter is bit like quarter time in a big game, the key contests are developing, both sides are giving us glimpses of their respective strengths and weaknesses while individual performances are coming under the microscope.
And if you look at the Two-Party Preferred scoreboard Tony Rabbit’s Blues are well ahead of Real Julia’s Reds after a scrappy start to a quarter that was ultimately dominated by one critical play.
The Scoreboard (2PP)
The Prime Minister has been dedicating a significant slice of stump time in recent weeks to explaining the differences between the ALP and the Greens, how one emerges from real-world struggles and the other is a group of out-of-touch extremists.
A similar debate has been being waged within the Greens following their underwhelming NSW state election performance, where a local candidate’s intervention in the Middle East peace provided the platform to portray the party as a collective of bat-faced ideologues.
But as the debate about the Greens’ orientation gains pertinence as they move to assume the balance of power in the Senate a more basic fact is being missed: Labor voters and Green voters agree on just about everything.
A review of findings to Essential Research questions over the past few months finds that on nearly every big debate the similarities between Greens voters and Labor voters far outweigh their differences.
Context is everything. All of a sudden Labor’s political predicament does not seem as dire; no-one is dead or missing; nuclear reactors aren’t melting down; the only after-shocks are electoral.
The enormity of the Japan catastrophe wipes everything else from public consciousness, allowing a wounded prime minister and her team to step back from the limelight, reflect and regroup.
As this week’s Essential Report shows, there is a path to repairing the damage the government has suffered and a way of setting up a debate that could, in the long-term, see it regain the political initiative.
Like so much in politics, the secret lies in the questions you ask. Ask whether people support a price on carbon and the answer is a decisive ‘no’.
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