“The moment of truth has arrived for the Australian Labor Party,” Shaun Carney writes in The Age today.

“Either it deals with its challenges or it accepts that its viability as a major political force has been extinguished.”

Is this just the usual portentous thunder of the op-ed pages? Well, Labor remains the second main political party in the country. It’s in power in all the states and territories. Federally, though, it’s in diabolical strife.

It was overlooked in all the leadership fun, but The Australian yesterday carried a fascinating little yarn on the seat of Penrith:

If the federal ALP was concerned that its internal squabbles had left the party’s true believers disillusioned, it need not have looked further yesterday than its one-time traditional heartland in Sydney’s working-class west.

The electorate of Lindsay, which takes in Penrith and its surrounding suburbs, was once a Labor stronghold but since 1996, when it was captured by former Australian rower Jackie Kelly, it has remained in the hands of the Liberal Party.

And if internal ALP polling proves accurate, the seat – which has been one of the most marginal in the country over the past decade – may finally have drifted well and truly out of the reach of Labor.

The poll shows that if an election was held over the weekend, Labor would have polled just 32 per cent of the primary vote – at least 8 per cent short of what it needs to win back the seat…

The Oz today has a quote from long serving Labor backbencher Rod Sawford that tells the same story. “People were telling me they did not dislike Kim,” he says. “But they saw him as indecisive, conservative and having no cut through.”

And cut through is what opposition leaders need, as Gerard Henderson reminds us in a little civics lecture in the SMH:

In electoral systems with voluntary voting, the task of political leaders is to motivate potential supporters to support a particular candidate or party.

In the Australian system, for an opposition to win it has to convince individuals who are not very focused on politics to change their vote from one election to another.

But what do you cut through with? That’s the real issue here. The Libs were quick off the mark launching their “same old Labor” web site yesterday.

That “same old same old” factor sank Kim Beazley. Just look at how the ACTU only managed to half fill the G last week. That illustrated a party out of touch as well as the Rove slip encapsulated all of Beazley’s weaknesses.

Last week our pal The Labor Dry excoriated Labor’s policy timidity. Piers Akerman is entertaining today, too:

Rudd didn’t win the ballot by selling new policies. He hasn’t put together much more than slogans which promise to take the country down a “new fork in the road” and not “go a bridge too far”, except when the Government has not gone “a bridge far enough”.

At least Rudd’s a policy wonk. He has the honeymoon to do some thinking in. He needs to come up with something different. The Government has been in office for more than a decade.

Its best days are behind it. Labor must be able to provide a decent alternative – otherwise it’s forked.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey