Peter Costello has discovered life is sh-t – until you look at the alternatives. Much as the way the punters seem to have done.

The Coalition has gained a small edge in primary votes and the two party preferred has the Government and opposition tied 50/50 in today’s Newspoll. John Howard is staying. Kim Beazley says, “This is the fight I want and the fight I’m going to win.” Will he?

Henry Thornton said yesterday: “Bomber seems to think that the WorkChoices backlash and the likelihood of a few more interest rate rises between now and the election will be enough to sweep him into office”.

A few of his frontbench don’t. “Henry Thornton or his spies must be living with the Democrats at the bottom of the garden,” one Labor source told Crikey yesterday. “No one in Labor thinks we are going to surf to government. We thought that once before on the back of discontent with the GST. After having that meal turn to ashes in our mouths and an outright no-excuses defeat under Latham, let me tell you there is no complacency from anyone… We know we are one pace in front of the wolf, and if we stumble again we are f-cked.”

To paraphrase a line from a few weeks ago, not even Peter Costello now thinks the prime ministership can be given, not taken. The leadership stoush has once again focussed voter attention on the PM’s positives – as the polling shows.

John Howard is simply the canniest politician we have seen in decades. Nothing sticks to the bloke.

Beazley’s office is running a tighter ship than before, but it’s still generally regarded that there’s room for improvement. Labor remains rusty over policy and coordinator Lindsay Tanner has had to ratchet up the pressure.

At least Caucus are behaving themselves. The left has a nice lost cause to rally to – uranium – but unlike the old days when they savaged Simon Crean over 60:40/50:50 internal votes that meant nothing to voters, they are conducting themselves civilly. The front bench is behaving. Gillard and Rudd are back in the box. Most people seem to have realised that a better prize than the opposition leader’s job may be in the wind.

Labor is starting to form an effective opposition and making a start on becoming a credible alternative government, but there is still a very long way to go and a lot that can go wrong. And there’s the rub for Labor. It’s more than a year to the next poll. John Howard has turned round the last two elections in a matter of months.

The Treasurer has discovered that life’s sh-t until you look at the alternatives. Voters seem to have done the same throughout the life of John Howard’s Government. And that’s an almighty hurdle for Labor to overcome.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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