Kim Beazley’s bad news week got worse this morning, although it was
already foreshadowed when he spoke to Kerry O’Brien on last night’s 7.30 Report. Today’s Newspoll is
a shocker for Labor. Its two-party-preferred vote is down four points
to 47%, back to where it was at the last election. And Beazley’s
approval ratings are at record lows, with only 27% (down 6 points)
satisfied with his leadership.

It’s only one poll, and the 2PP figure is only 1% below where it was in
January. But Beazley’s own numbers, especially the 18% preferred prime
minister (reinforced, of course, by the famous “private polling”), will
multiply the ALP’s doubts about the direction in which it’s heading.

Bringing back Beazley seemed like a good idea at the time. After the
roller-coaster ride of Latham’s leadership, Labor wanted a safe pair of
hands. Perhaps they forgot that volatility is not the only sin in a
leader; it was a safe choice, Arthur Calwell, who led Labor (also at
his third attempt) to one of its worst ever results in 1966.

Perhaps they also learned the wrong lesson from John Howard’s Lazarus
effort. Unlike the Liberals, Labor did not exhaust its other options
first. As I wrote last year (Crikey, 18 January 2005), “Not only did
Downer make Howard look good by comparison, but without that experience
Howard could never have taken over with such a consensus of support. He
would have remained a divisive figure, just as Beazley is in today’s
Labor Party.”

If Kevin Rudd had become leader and failed, Beazley would still be
there in reserve. But dropping Beazley now would be a major trauma, and
would risk just burning another potential leader to no good purpose. As
Steve Lewis says in today’s Australian, Rudd “should be mothballed for the moment rather than being sacrificed for the next poll.”

Nonetheless, if Beazley can’t turn things around in the near future it
is more than likely that Rudd will be asked to step forward.
Interesting, therefore, to see an interview with him for Australian Prospect, excerpted in the Oz.
In it, Rudd portrays Labor as “the genuine inheritors” of the tradition
of Adam Smith. Well, that’s a novel idea, but at least it’s an idea –
it seems a long time since Beazley’s had one of those.