As expected, the Kroger/Costello forces have counter-attacked strongly
following yesterday’s spray by former Victorian Liberal president Joy
Howley, but they seem to be having some trouble getting their story
straight. Interviewed yesterday morning on ABC radio (here), Peter Costello praised Robert Doyle’s performance, saying that “if you believe the polls he is coming back.”

In this morning’s Age
however, Doyle himself “implicitly acknowledg[ed] that the latest polls
were bad,”, saying: “The most important thing for the Liberal Party is
not to panic, to stick at it, to work hard and do all the things you
have to do in opposition.”

The published polls certainly support Doyle’s interpretation rather than Costello’s. The most recent Newspoll, taken
in May and June, shows Labor gaining ground, with the two-party swing
since the last election now down to less than 2%, or a likely gain of
only about three seats. Doyle’s rating as preferred premier was down to
19%. The last Morgan poll tells a similar story.

Another report in The Oz
quoted Costello saying: “Ms Howley would not have seen any internal
polling in six years,” but this is a red herring. Despite the mythology
surrounding internal party polls, the public polls such as Newspoll are
much more reliable – for one thing, they have no incentive to distort
results in favour of what the client wants to hear.

Also among Howley’s critics was state deputy leader Phil Honeywood,
once a loyal member of the anti-Kroger faction. Having already ratted
on them to back Doyle’s elevation in 2002, he’s evidently now trying
to paint himself as a solid Costello supporter. Pity that his only
other media attention recently came from an attack on the federal
government’s voluntary student unionism legislation – an
unquestionable icon in the Kroger/Costello camp.