“I’ve been around these votes before when at the last moment they change” John Key said today about the ALP leadership ballot. He certainly has; in 2003 he promised Bill English his vote then shifted at the last minute to Don Brash who won narrowly. He was rewarded with a promotion to Finance spokesperson – not that it did Brash much good in the end.
Key also says that whoever wins the vote will have a “large repair job”. It might have already started – the latest Newspoll has Labor up four points to 47-53 on the two-party preferred and the Coalition four down – and the election is not tomorrow but eighteen months away so talk of a landslide is premature. Gillard won this contest handsomely, found her mojo in the process, and Australia has seen why the ALP caucus chose a woman as leader. She’s consultative, focussed on delivery for people in general rather than a narrow interest, with a track record to boot.
The ALP factions fight like cats and dogs among themselves, but they are also very effective when they turn their attention onto the common enemy. Gillard’s clearly now in charge.
It won’t surprise me if the next leadership vote is in the Coalition party room, a rerun of Turnbull against Abbott. Abbott has certainly benefited from Labor’s infighting but the attention will now turn back on him and he is not personally popular. His satisfaction numbers have gone down by five points to 31 for and 57 against. As Julia Gillard reminded him in Question Time today he won his challenge against Turnbull by one vote.
He needed the ALP infighting to make himself look good. Around the world, conservative parties have been trying to detoxify their brand – a major reason for Key taking over from Brash after National’s 2005 defeat. Abbott is toxic Tory personified; it won’t at all surprise me if as their numbers slip the Liberal-Country coalition goes back to the more personable Turnbull.
Ironically, Key having won two elections as Labour-lite, is now also turning into toxic Tory. I doubt that he will have done himself much good across the Tasman either by talking up a close race and wanting to have a bob each way.