18 April 2008

Bloody battle

Dennis Shanahan made himself a laughing stock last year when, in the face of consistent polling showing that the Howard government could not win, insisted that they could and would do so. Now, as the contrarian of the press gallery, the man who zigs while others zag, Shanahan has taken on Brendan Nelson as his pet project. This is all very well, until you see that this "political editor" has no actual idea about politics.
Colleagues and commentators refer to him as incompetent, contradictory, too emotional, failing to make any impact, lacking leadership and someone whose time is up. In the circumstances, he's all of those things and appears to have won only another stay of execution until July.

At this point, a real political journalist would round on those who put this 21st Century Snedden into the role, and ask them what the hell they were thinking.
... Nelson is not the Liberals' chief leadership problem. The biggest leadership problem the Coalition faces is Kevin Rudd ... Rudd's ascendancy is not going to be overturned overnight because the Liberals change leaders, no matter where they turn.

Well put. The Liberals can, however, choose a leader with credibility.
The Coalition's primary vote has also recovered to 35 per cent after it slumped to a record low 31 per cent following Rudd's parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations.

In other words, a slight uptick (dead cat bounce?) only just outside the margin for error.
Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan rub their hands in warm anticipation of a Peter Costello leadership as they discuss the Liberals' future while nestled in the Lodge.

That's all very well, but it assumes that Rudd and Swan have more credibility than they actually do. They are not yet in a position to knock Costello out of the running, and they must surely know it. Swan should be able to eclipse Costello's economic record in a single term, but his shaky start raises doubts about this.
Labor MPs finger a file on Turnbull's involvement in HIH before it collapsed. Mark Latham went there once before and was threatened with legal action, but a political campaign aimed at an Opposition leader can be all smear and innuendo without actually proving anything or risking defamation.

Would that be similar to the Coalition file on Gillard before the last election? Turnbull can cut his way through a smear campaign.
It's also worth noting that despite the general dismissal of Nelson as a loser, the ALP has not assumed he won't be around and does not let an opportunity pass to slice and dice the Opposition Leader's position. The scrupulous attention to Nelson's homespun performance does not sound like a Government happy to keep him in the leader's chair.

It sounds like a government not willing to take any chances, not complacent - in other words, a government led by Kevin Rudd. For Labor, dispatching Nelson quickly is part of overall momentum and knocking the Liberals off their game.
The manner of the removal is also likely to send Liberal fortunes south once more (at least further south), because dreams of a bloodless coup are just dreams.

Alexander Downer was a lot more pugnacious and stubborn than Nelson, and he knew what it meant when Birnam Wood started moving.
Why should Nelson suddenly decide one night to turn up his toes and hand the leadership to someone else? Nelson has been given a thankless and almost impossible task ... He's copped heaps, a lot of it justified, but he's also been operating to an overall strategy so that the Liberals can shift policy direction towards the end of the year with some credibility when they say they have been listening.

If there is a massive Nelson constituency on the back bench, it isn't large and it will evaporate under the relentless barrage of poor polling. Rudd beat Beazley for the Labor leadership by a whisker in December 2006: try and find a Labor person today who still pines for Beazley. Beazley, like Howard, spent his whole life in the party he came to lead: Nelson is still a Johnny-come-lately who's had all his organisational problems fixed for him.

People like Minchin will stand by Nelson so long as he preserves the Howard agenda in aspic. Once Nelson starts to walk away from the shibboleths in search of new votes, he'll be taking risks and wandering into a political no-man's-land; once that happens, he's a goner.
It may not be the common wisdom but it's certainly possible Nelson will still be Liberal leader after July, because more Liberals may come to realise they have to stop fighting over an empty prize, just as they did for the last year of government, and face Rudd, the real problem, with new policies.

Whether it is or isn't common wisdom is beside the point. It isn't sensible that Nelson would continue in the Liberal leadership completely denuded of credibility. I reckon our Den wants to be the journalist of choice for the current Liberal leader, the only one who doesn't snigger when he rings Nelson's office.

The Liberals could develop all the policies they liked, and complain about the performance of Rudd every time he slips - but if they have no credibility they are tinkling bells and clattering cymbals. That's what they are, that's all they are, and they underestimate how long and how much it will take to change.

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