Today’s Newspoll should be on the website later today, a year into the Howard government’s new term, and it’s a mixed bag for Kim Beazley. Labor’s vote is up to 37% primary and 49% two-party-preferred – not great, but respectable. Beazley’s approval ratings, however, are at near-record lows, and he trails Howard as preferred prime minister 57-23, down from 53-26 at the previous poll.

It’s votes that win elections, not approval ratings. But a leader’s fate can be sealed by bad approval numbers, as Simon Crean discovered. Many in caucus have not forgotten Beazley’s role in destabilising Crean (if they had, The Latham Diaries are there to remind them), and unless his results improve, a new cycle of leadership speculation will soon be underway.

Most readers of The Latham Diaries take sides on Latham vs Beazley: either Latham is right, and Beazley is a scheming but ineffectual windbag, or Latham is mad and bad, and Beazley is decent and sensible.

Dennis Shanahan, however, covering the Newspoll in this morning’s Australian, is determined to put the boots into both of them.

The improvement in Labor’s vote is passed over quickly, in favour of reporting that “the Labor leader’s personal standing slipped further” and that his satisfaction rating “is now worse than Mr Latham’s after the last election.” He also gratuitously quotes some of Latham’s most destructive lines, such as that Labor’s “massive cultural and structural problems are insoluble.”

But lest that be taken as an endorsement of Latham, Shanahan gives him a serve as well: at last year’s election, “Labor had its worst primary vote in 98 years and lost nine seats.” As a matter of fact Labor lost eight seats, but it also won four, for a net loss of four. And its primary vote was much lower in 1931 (27.1%) and 1934 (26.8%) (presumably Shanahan would rule them out by including Lang Labor in the ALP total, but in 1931 they had just voted to bring down a Labor government).

But Shanahan and The Australian don’t care whether it’s Latham’s fault or Beazley’s fault, just as long as Labor is in trouble.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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