Do governments have natural life cycles? In an age of intense media scrutiny, relentless polling, and accountability over the most inane issues, is it possible for any government to become a serial election winner if it faces a credible opposition?

The question is provoked by a fascinating poll in today’s Guardian newspaper which shows that the British Conservatives are on course for a possible general election win, with Labour’s support plunging to a 19-year low. This is the same trend afflicting the Bush presidency, where George Bush’s disapproval rating has hit 57% in a CNN poll published yesterday. In both cases disapproval of the government is driven in large part by the unpopularity of the Iraq war, damage that has not so far been inflicted on the Howard government in Australia, where the only casualty has been one unfortunate death inside the barracks.

But John Howard should view such polls with deep concern. Even though they contain a significant Iraq factor they also suggest that, in an era of almost interchangeable policy positions by major parties, his decision to lead his government in its bid for a fifth term could end in tears. In the end, it seems, all leaders and governments are eventually on the nose.