Making decisions based on advice from the pollster Rod Cameron once earned me the reputation of being an alright sort of election tactician. Experience on the campaign trail certainly taught me that ignoring what he had to say was a sure way of getting into trouble.

Yet, while Rod and his company ANOP have been outside the Labor Party team for well over a decade, those on the conservative side of politics still treat his occasional public comments as if he is an enemy agent out to mislead them. Hence, the warning on Lateline last month that personal attacks on Kevin Rudd would rebound on those making them was ignored. The past 10 days have seen Foreign Minister Alexander Downer acting the pot and calling the Opposition Leader vain and dishonest. And today, Howard mate Bill Heffernan has widened the personality assault to include Labor deputy leader Julia Gillard.

In an interview published in The Bulletin, the senator from New South Wales repeated his belief that Labor deputy leader Julia Gillard was not qualified to lead the country because she is deliberately “barren”. In his words: “I won’t walk away from that. So rude, crude and unattractive as it was … If you’re a leader, you’ve got to understand your community. One of the great understandings in a community is family, and the relationship between mum, dads and a bucket of nappies.”

The intemperate comments will defuse the attempt by John Howard to portray Labor as the political bullies of Australia. Gillard offending the sensibility of a few business leaders is one thing, but having a sneer at all the childless women in the country makes it pale into insignificance.

Howard would be wise to tell all his colleagues to start believing Rod Cameron’s assessment that voters “are looking in bewilderment at this mud-slinging issue. They hate mud-slinging. They hate it with a passion. In election campaigns they don’t like it because it is negative ads, but at least they get the message. Outside of election campaigns, they can’t understand why mud is being slung. They don’t understand what the issue is all about and therefore, it is rebounding on John Howard’s character. For the last, for all of John Howard’s political life, they’ve used the word, “He’s a ‘cunning’ politician …”

And they’ve sort of meant it in a vaguely positive way, at least grudgingly, admiringly. They now use it differently. They now say “cunning politician” to mean sneaky, untrustworthy, wrong priorities, playing the man.”

The pattern of the polls since those remarks back in early March suggest that Mr Cameron’s assessment was spot on. Support for the Government took a dive before recovering slightly once the personal attacks came to their temporary halt.