Sunday, August 1, 2010

Is this Gillard's biggest mistake?

By Graham Cooke

The decision by Julia Gillard to head into an election campaign less than a month after becoming Prime Minister is beginning to look like the biggest mistake of her political career.

As well as Australia's first woman Prime Minister, she is in serious danger of becoming one of shortest-lived.

At the time of writing the Tony Abbott-led Coalition, while not exactly having the Government on the run, has certainly seized the initiative. There is still plenty of time for Labor to pull back the lost ground, but any thoughts of a comfortable cruise into a second term have evaporated.

The early election strategy revolved around two major factors: Capitalising on the honeymoon period a new Prime Minister normally receives and enthusiasm for the fact a woman held the office for the first time.

It seems the honeymoon has failed to survive the blistering spotlight of an election campaign, while the expected support for a woman PM among woman voters has not crystallised - at least not yet.

Instead, the man she deposed, Kevin Rudd, has become a factor, with many potential Labor voters turned off by the ruthless way he was deposed in the wake of significant, but far from catastrophic falls in his popularity rating.

Add to the number of leaks and counter-leaks springing from the Labor camp and the Opposition is successfully portraying Gillard as an opportunist who doesn't have the full confidence of her own party, let alone the electorate.

Hindsight is wonderful, but had she waited until later in the year - the end of November or even early December - the Rudd 'assassination' would have faded in the public's memory.

As I said, Labor can still turn it around. A key factor will be Rudd, and how he conducts himself when he returns to the campaign trail after his gall bladder operation. Unqualified support for Gillard and a willingness to campaign for her nationally, will be a major plus.

But as things stand the Coalition must be seriously contemplating a return to government that would have been unthinkable less than a year ago.