Perhaps there is a clue to what Labor Party researchers are finding about attitudes to John Howard in this collection of recent quotations from Labor frontbenchers.

I mean John Howard’s a very clever politician, but two years ago you never saw him making mistakes like that. – Tony Burke, Opposition immigration spokesman, 7 February 2007

Elections are always close in this country and we know that John Howard is a clever politician and a vicious street fighter. – Wayne Swan, Labor shadow Treasurer, 12 February 2007

John Howard is a clever politician, but this week we saw him make mistakes that he would not have made two years ago. – Anthony Albanese, Labor front bencher 12 February 2007

Mr Howard’s been behind before in the polls, he’s a very clever politicianKevin Rudd, 20 February 2007

It’s going to be an interesting year. Howard is a very clever politician who will pull every trick in the book and he should never be underestimated. — Tony Burke Opposition immigration spokesman 27 February 2007

Maxine put this proposal to me weeks ago – it was her idea and we’re up against the cleverest politician that Australia has. – Kevin Rudd, 26 February 2007

And Mr Howard is the most clever politician I think this country has produced. – Kevin Rudd, 26 February 2007

John Howard is a clever politician. He’ll do anything and spend any amount of money if he thinks he can get away with it. — Labor frontbencher Penny Wong, 2 March 2007

When it comes to Mr Howard, as a clever politician, deciding to sack Senator Campbell today, he was deploying standards that were invented on the run in Parliament last Thursday Kevin Rudd, 5 March 2007

On the question concerning Senator Campbell, my view is plain that Mr Howard, a clever politician, decided to sack Senator Campbell to gain political advantage…– Kevin Rudd, 5 March 2007

… his objective is not to get in the road of Mr Howard’s political attack right now because Mr Howard, a clever politician, wants to establish a case in the lead-up to the election. — Kevin Rudd, 5 March 2007

He’s using his office as prime minister to be a very clever politician but is not using his office of prime minister in the interests of the nation and where we are going to be as a country ten years from now.” – Julia Gillard, 5 March 2007

John Howard is a clever politician but he has a very, very limited grasp of the future needs of this country – Labor Senator Kim Carr, 5 March 2007

People will always see John Howard as a clever politician, but I think they expect a bit more from their prime minister. — Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek, 5 March 2007